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AWADmail Issue 203

April 2, 2006

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

From: Ernest M. Fishman (judgeATdelhitel.net)
Subject: Parthian shot

A distinctive characteristic of Peter Falk's TV police lieutenant "Columbo" was the Parthian shot he sent to a likely suspect. It was usually delivered while Colombo had started to leave with his hand on the doorknob. It was delivered in the form of a question that let the suspect know that Colombo knew the suspect had done the dirty deed he was being questioned about.

From: Milind Sarwate (milindsATmaricoindia.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--Parthian shot

It may be sheer coincidence, but today's word- Parthian shot- has a "connection" with the hero of today's story - of the bird's eye.

Parth or Partha is one of the myriad Sanskrit names that Arjuna has been given in the Mahabharata. Thus, every shot that Arjuna may have made had the capability of being a 'Parthian' shot!

From: James D. Ertner (ertnerjdATpsnsbsn.navy.mil)
Subject: A.Word.A.Day--Parthian shot

Speaking of archery reminds me of the archer who missed his target. He didn't understand the science of arrow dynamics.

From: Chris Jones (chrisATbowhouse.co.uk)
Subject: Bows & arrows

Check out the last line of the penultimate verse in A Southern Girl by Samuel Minturn Peck.

From: Elizabeth S. Boyer (miacomet4ATcox.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--Parthian shot

How eager I was this morning to share this tale with my nine-year-old son whose teachers describe him as an 'absent minded professor', so full of potential and delight - if only he would focus more and apply himself. I comfort myself with that description and envision him someday walking the quads of Oxford as an esteemed professor, pushing up his glasses as he ponders why he was heading in a northerly direction. Then I realized that this life lesson is for all of us.

I read a description this past year of the Amish and their work ethic. Each task that is set before them is taken on with quiet delight. There is no hurrying through to get to the next task, to cross off one more item from a long things 'to do' list. They apply themselves, focusing deeply, pleased to do what they are doing well. With my harried life, with our harried lives, we would all do well to take this lesson to heart. Take pleasure in doing one thing well, pare down the endless 'to do' list and focus on the task at hand. The eye of the bird lies before us, if only we would look for it.

From: Rudy Rosenberg Sr. (rrosenbergsrATaccuratechemical.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--fletcher

The arrow maker reminded me of how I felt when I saw "Lord of the Rings". I could not get into it and could not see what the "hoopla" was all about.

What turned me off was the scene where all the archers are ready to let go of their arrows. Some guy jumps up and yells" Hold your fire!", then after a while he yells "Fire" and they all release their arrows. Some anachronism!

As far as I know, "Fire" came about with guns and gunpowder when you put the brand on to the wick.

From: Jack Lynes (jlynesATjacklynes.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--fletcher

I think, more specifically, a "fletcher" only puts on the feathers. This comes from reading Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series and talking to a friend of mine surnamed Fletcher.

    A number of you wrote with similar questions, but back then things weren't so specialized. There wasn't an occupation in which one's sole purpose in life was to feather an arrow.

    A fletcher is an arrowsmith, one who makes an arrow, from French flèche (arrow). Fletcher sprouted a backformation, the verb "to fletch" which means to add a feather to an arrow. Fletch acquired a sense different from its parent word, from confusion with the word fledge (to feather). It's the same fledge that appears in terms such as full-fledged and fledgling.

    If you go back far enough, the words feather, fledge, fletcher all derive from the same Indo-European root pleu- (flow). And that's the remarkable thing about language -- how one word could diverge into so many different senses. That pleu- also gave us plutocracy (government by the wealthy), from the idea of overflowing riches.

    -Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)

From: Yan Zen (yan.zenATvodafone.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--fletcher

Yes! My GP (general practictioner aka medical doctor) is Dr Behram Doctor: He said that he is of Persian ancestry and born in Bombay.

In fact, there are a handful of members of the Doctor family according to the telephone book here in Sydney.

From: David Jones (ddj44ATcomcast.net)
Subject: John Webmaster (Re: fletcher)

> Do you think the pattern will repeat
> and in a century or two one might find
> somebody named John Webmaster only
> because his father had a last name
> Webmaster?

John Webmasterson?

From: Robin Patterson (robinjpattersonATyahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--bull's-eye

Re your question - "Why bull's eye? Why not a cat's eye or a dog's eye?" I suspect it's more to do with the size of the eye and the height of the animal -- it's possible for a standing human and a standing bull to look each other directly in the eye, whereas to look a cat or dog in the eye involves getting down on all fours, or lifting the cat or dog. And bulls have more of a tendency to stare (or at least appear to stare) at humans than cats or dogs, although perhaps that is because of the latent fear we have that a bull might start to charge.

From: Jacques Maitre (jfmaitreATpacbell.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--bull's-eye

One might also posit that the bull's-eye was a literal reference. After all, if a hunter is using a bow and arrow in an attempt to bring down a bull (or an animal the size of a bull), the best chance of doing so without having to subsequently outrun an enraged animal would be a direct hit to the eye (and thence to the brain). I can even imagine early Britons using the skulls from their past dinners for target practice.

From: Janna Fick (jannaq9ATyahoo.com)
Subject: comment on toxophilite

This word inspires me to paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt:
Toxophilite but carry a big arrow.

From: Ed Buhl (etbuhlATaol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--toxophilite

It is easy to see why Roger Ascham resorted to Greek for his new word. Latin, the more customary source for scientific names, provides a well know word for "archer": sagittarius (sagitta means arrow) which is also the name for the constellation. But when it comes to "archery", Latin flunks the simplicity test: sagitta aliquod petere, literally "to attack something with an arrow".

When I was a boy, I raised tropical fish. I always dreamed of owning (but never did) a Siamese archer fish, the scientific name for which is Toxotes Jaculatrix (in my day the second word was jaculator, but somehow it became feminine over the years). Toxotes in Greek means archer and Jaculator in Latin means thrower. The person responsible for the nomenclature apparently couldn't make up his mind between shooting an arrow and throwing something. Perhaps there was no Greek or Latin word for "spitter', since this is how the archer commonly brings down its prey, i.e. insects hovering over the water. The archer fish directs a jet of water at the insect and stuns it, and waits directly below with mouth open, anticipating lunch. It's fascinating.

Final note: both Greek and Latin have the same word for poison for an arrow: toxicon.

From: Martin Herbach (herbachATus.ibm.com)
Subject: feedback: toxophilite

Have you fallen asleep at the yew switch? There is so much more to discuss. I was surprised that you didn't trace "toxin" (from the Greek "toxikon" for the yew extract used as an arrow poison) to toxon. Or mention that the Latin for yew, "taxus", shares the Greek etymon since this tree provided wood for the archer's bow as well as poison for his arrow. And that we now have many modern taxus-derived words, such as the cancer drugs Taxol, tamoxifen and Taxotere, all produced from a once-threatened American yew.

From: Carolanne Reynolds (ggATwordsmith.org)
Subject: Quotation for Monday ("Woodman, spare that tree! ...")

Your quotation about trees reminds me of another of my tree haiku:

But Adam and Eve
just ate the apple --
we're cutting down the whole tree!

From: Art Haykin (theartATwebtv.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--best gold

Of course, the ultimate bull's eye was in Errol Flynn's Robin Hood when he split the perfectly centered arrow of his opponent. I think it was on "Mythbusters" where they spent all day trying to duplicate the feat, but only managed, after scores of attempts, to splinter a bit off the target arrow. Archery genius Howard Hill is said to have done it for the picture, but that has never been verified, as far as I know.

From: Eric Shackle (eshackleATozemail.com.au)
Subject: Best gold

Two hundred and forty-six best golds have just been awarded to athletes competing in the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. I'd like to give two more to the editors of The Modesto Bee in California and The Courier-Mail in Brisbane, Australia, for their great new websites, making it easy for newspaper writers and readers to exchange ideas. Further details can be found in my free e-book.

Compared to the drama of words, Hamlet is a light farce. -Anatoly Liberman, professor (1937- )

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