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AWADmail Issue 179September 24, 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)
Almost Before We Spoke, We Swore:
Computer Learns Grammar by Crunching Sentences:
Fake Words in Dictionaries:
From: Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)
Here are some selections from the reader mail of various examples of this week's nyms. Due to space limitations, it's not possible to include them all. Feel free to discuss them on the bulletin board.
I'm puzzled. Does one use a conundrum for safe lex?
So is 'row' actually a hermaphronym? row (v. a boat), row (n. a line of
articles), row (n. a quarrel).
I've often wondered at the acronyms some projects acquire, like the many
NASA and NOAA satellites (e.g., CHIPS for Cosmic Hot Interstellar Plasma
Spectrometer). The project names are so "cleverly" constructed to make
a neat acronym that there must be a name for this type of labeling. If
not, I propose a new word: awkronym.
Surely one of the most commonly used backronyms in the US is ZIP,
as in ZIP code, which putatively stands for Zone Improvement Plan.
Sounds backronymic to me. :-)
Now, I had always thought ACRONYM was itself an acronym for the words
"Alphabetically Consistent Representation of Neologically Yclept
Magniloquence". Learnt that 20 years ago in IBM - the originator of the `TLA'!
There's a great burger joint in Davis, California, that was named Murder
Burger (tag line: "So good it's to die for"). Very popular for many years.
On a recent trip to Davis, we saw that in Murder Burger's place was a
burger joint with the same design but a new name: Redrum Burger. Turns out
the name Murder Burger was a victim of current political correctness, deemed
too violent and inappropriate a moniker.
My nana is the ananym of ananym.
I didn't realize until today that the list of titles for jazz tunes is
replete, especially in the bebop era, with ananyms. I knew they were there,
but I didn't know what to call them. Horace Silver's Ecaroh and Sonny
Rollins' Airegin come to mind first. There are many others.
If only it was 'emanym' then it would be 'my name' backwards.
Hergé, the pen name of the Belgian comics writer Georges Remi, best known as
the writer of "Tintin", is the French pronunciation of "R.G.", the author's
initials in reverse order.
I never knew there was a name for this, but as soon as I read today's word,
it reminded me of Evian, which charges an arm and a leg for a bottle of
water, is an ananym: EVIAN is NAIVE spelled backwards. Perfect!
In the first Harry Potter book, the name of the magic mirror is an ananym.
It's called "the mirror of Erised" and it shows the "heart's desire".
In the UK, there is Trebor, a sweets manufacturer set up by Robert Something;
it's a surprise to young Roberts (certainly in the 70s and 80s) toying with
their names to find it spells Trebor backwards.
Is there a word for names that sound like ananyms? I nominate Alan Yentob
(a UK BBC guy) to collect the award.
Ananym put me in mind of the fictional place of "Llareggub" in Dylan Thomas's
"Under Milk Wood". It's a lovely Welsh placename, as it starts with the
double-L common at the start of Welsh towns. When asked where the name came
from, Dylan Thomas suggested that the interviewer read it backwards. This
story always makes me smile, as it puts me in mind of many Welsh towns
(being Welsh myself) and the continuous complaints of the local children
that "there is nothing to do around here".
Here is one that I think any of your other Scottish readers will agree is
close to our hearts. It may happen elsewhere but it's particularly common
in the central belt of Scotland for girls who have grandmothers named
Agnes to be named Senga ("Agnes" being seen as somewhat old-fashioned and
prim). Senga in turn has become a term used generally to describe female
"neds" or "chavs".
In Umberto Ecco's "The Island of the day before", the protagonist remembers
meeting a lady named Arthenice which actually stands for Catherine. It seems
that it was very common to "hide" behind an ananym when attending a "salon"
during the XVII th century. I still am working on mine though...
In Canada, ADANAC was frequently used as the name for hotels, lodges,
companies and other things which needed appellations at the turn of the
18th into the 19th century, that is the 1890s and early 1900s. It's
still used, though less frequently.
In Jan 2004 I was in New Zealand on a "Tour of Middle-earth" we visited the
Mt. Sunday, which is the hill upon which Edoras was set. Far across the
valley is Erewhon Station. Samuel Butler was the 1st owner. There isn't
much in the area now. Back in 1850 or so, there would have been no one in
that nowhere land.
In a sequel to Universal Pictures' _Dracula_ called _Son of Dracula_ (1943),
the vampire played by Lon Chaney Jr. disguises himself as Count Alucard. The
police reveal his true identity as if they had just cracked the Enigma Code.
Stevie Wonder recorded "Alphie" under the pseudonym Eivets Rednow.
Anyone else remember SERUTAN, a health tonic advertised on the radio and TV
in the '40s and '50s? Part of their spiel was "And SERUTAN is NATURE'S
I've noticed that one person in Alabama had two towns named after him,
Palmer and Remlap. Alabama also has the town named Trebor. I tell my
children that Trebor was named for me.
For many years the Chicago cab company, Yellow Taxi, has had a strangle-hold
on the city's cab market. Recently a group of Yellow Taxi drivers "revolted"
and formed a new company - Wolley Cab Company! This makes me smile every time
I see one of these white-colored taxis rambling down the street.
My favorite ananym is a local coffee company, Ronnoco coffee, founded by the
O'Connor brothers in the early 1900's.
One of my favorite discoveries was the real identity of the songwriter, A.
Nugetre, who takes credit for numerous R&B songs that likes of Ray Charles
and Big Joe Turner made famous.
Remember the old Captain and the Kids comic strip where they traveled
to the planet "Munimula" and met a character named "Repap Nikpan?"
A great, albeit dated, ananym, nacerima, was mentioned to me countless times
by my Dad. It's a quasi-academic (maybe fully academic), anthropological
look at America. Dad's a history professor (now retired) and loved it.
Here is Wikipedia's description.
Here in Queensland, Australia, early settlers often used this technique in
naming their land claims. A family originating in Antrim, Northern Ireland
lived at "Mirtna Station". Guess the surname of the family who lived at
Interesting that this word should come up today. Just last night I learned
that the Oklahoma town named "Retrop" was so named because they originally
called it "Porter" but there was already an Oklahoma town with that name,
so they reversed it.
Carnies (carnival workers) often identify themselves to outsiders by monikers
that are both anonyms and charactonyms, e.g. "Robin Marx" (robbin' marks) or
"Don E. Kerr" ("donniker" is Carnie slang for bathroom).
Charles Dickens was a master of charactonyms, particularly in evidence
in his comedies. The personalities/jobs of the characters are frequently
expressed onomatopoetically. For example: The Hon. Mr. Crushton,
"obsequious companion of Lord Mutanhed at Bath" (Pickwick); Thomas
Gradgrind (Hard Times), who "blighted [his children's youth by his
emphasis of the superiority of fact to imagination"; evangelical preacher
The Revd. Melchisedech Howler; miserly moneylender Ralph Nickleby;
locksmith's apprentice Simon Tappertit; and, of course, Ebeneezer Scrooge,
the very sound of which more than adequately describes the pinched old
miser's blighted outlook prior to his Christmas Eve change of heart.
I think Willy Loman (in Death of a Salesman, a play by Arthur Miller)
was my first introduction to a charactonym.
The examples for charactonyms from one of my favourite book series - The
Asterix Books. Almost all the character names in the books are charactonyms:
I work in a library and we have a librarian named Linda Book; also another
one whose name before marriage was Irene Reed. When she got married, she
became Irene Reed-Wright. This is absolutely true.
We used to have an engineer working in our Calibration department, by the
name of Ken Measures.
About 20 years ago, I had my wisdom teeth extracted by a dentist, Dr. Small,
who incidentally was about 5' tall. He practiced with two other dentists,
which I discovered when I arrived for my appointment and saw the sign on
their door listing their names: Small, Pickens and Fear.
One of the lawyers we work with is named John Rule.
Reminds me of fond memories I have of two friends I worked with in the
seafood business many years ago: Cheryl Sturgeon and Tony Pollock.
My first encounter with a dental specialist in San Francisco when I needed
a root-canalled tooth extracted was with a Dr. Pullman. I thought it was a
joke as he introduced himself.
When I was in junior high school, I had several charactonymic teachers.
Mrs. Law taught math, Mrs. Stout taught cooking/home etc., and Mr. Echo
Here in Utah, we have the Sweet Candy Company, founded by Leon Sweet.
The editor of Audubon Minnesota News until recently: Ken Finch.
My name is Charles Plant. My wife is a botanist at the University of B.C.
Botanical Gardens. One of her cohorts is named Long. When they built a
large new greenhouse, they named it the Long Plant House. My best friend
when I was young was named John Greenhouse.
A former girlfriend of mine went to high school with a boy named Matt Burns,
who just happened to be on the varsity wrestling team. I kid you not.
There is also a psychologist in town named Dan Niles, or D. Niles for short.
In college a friend of mine in the geology department had the name Clay Hunter.
As a librarian I long collected book titles by people with related surnames.
I don't mean the obvious ones such as Metalwork; an introductory historical
survey by Donald N. Smith. or any one of numerous books on geology by someone
named Stone. Nor the very well known ones such as The Imperial Animal by
Lionel Tiger & Robin Fox. The ones I treasured were such as these:
We have a librarian at Roche's Scientific library whose full name is a wonderful
Nabokovian play on words: Marian Koob!
From: Geoff Lewis (glewisATumich.edu)
In the spirit of this week's theme, I'd like to offer a word about words that my brother and I came up with while discussing a little family history. The word ironym describes the situation when a person's name is at ironic odds with their actions. An example might be a stepmother named Hope who sells a family business out from under her eager and willing stepson. Or a divorcee's (previously) married surname of Truelove. It's funnier if you actually know the people involved, I'm sure, but it might still bring a smile.
In words are seen the state of mind and character and disposition of the speaker. -Plutarch, biographer and philosopher (circa 46-120)