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AWADmail Issue 211

May 28, 2006

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

Make Our Bed, and We'll Say Our Grace:
National Public Radio

It's Liberty, Not Language, That Unites a Nation:
Miami Herald

Fewer Characters Being Used in Written Chinese:

From: Peter Jennings (peterjATbenlo.com)
Subject: Brevity

The subject this week brought to mind one of my favorite quotations:

Pascal's apology at the end of his letter to the Jesuits (Dec 4, 1656), "this is long because I lack the time to make it short."

From: Cat Bieber (ratriATutter-chaos.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--erg

This word spawned a great one-line joke that I heard often while in school at MIT: the lesser known "arg" which is "the unit of work done incorrectly".

From: Dorothy Daybell (rddaybellATusc.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--erg

An erg is a very small amount. My physicist husband says it's the amount of work done when a fly does a pushup, and was named for the tiny grunt he makes as he does it!

From: Johannes Wiedersich (jowiATph.tum.de)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--erg

Erg is not a SI unit, i.e.. it doesn't correspond to international measurement standards. That simply means it shouldn't be used any more. Instead people should use Joule as it is the official SI unit for Energy. In many counties (including the EU) the use of erg as a unit of energy (as well as other units from the CGS system) is no longer officially allowed. In Germany it hasn't been allowed since 1978 to use erg as a unit of energy.

Scientists and engineers, but also anyone else should settle on a common 'language of units'. If everyone uses her/his own private units for measurements this will lead to global chaos and misunderstanding. That was already known by ancient cultures like the Greek and Roman, both of which implemented universal standards for mass, length, etc.

In our times of global exchange of people, ideas, and products, it is no longer sufficient to agree on a system of units in an area like the Mediterranean: we should adhere to global standards.

Richness of language --as exemplified in many mails from this list-- is a marvelous thing. In the case of units this 'richness' is rather a poorness, since it tells the same thing (how much energy) in a manner incomprehensible to others (who use Joule), without adding any meaning that couldn't also be expressed by correctly using Joule.

From: Mark Huey (markhueyATgmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--erg

In addition to the two definitions above, "erg" holds another potent meaning for some subset of your readers. The standard rowing machine (used throughout the year, but especially for winter training when the rivers are frozen) is commonly referred to as an Erg. Officially, the machine is an ergometer, as it continually measures work output (and records it for comparison, thereby maximizing the intensity of a team of competitive individuals). But the shorter name is apt -- ergs have a reputation for sucking every unit of energy from your body.

From: Harold Heft (haroldATconnecticc.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--heft

Imagine my excitement at seeing I'd hit the big time!

So now I have a sense of "importance" to add to my (unfortunately real) sense of "weight" and "heaviness".

From: John Langford (jlangfordAThobartairpt.com.au)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--tor

A tor is also the thing you throw onto the squares in hopscotch -- in the simple times of my childhood usually, a stone or similar piece of material gleaned from the ground around where the hopscotch squares were scratched or chalked on the ground.

From: Leo Weigant (weigantATusna.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--ret

"Ret" is familiar to crossword-puzzle workers along with another Middle English word from linen-making, to "ted", which meant to lay out the flax to dry it. I confess I'm not sure about the process -- whether one would ret then ted, or perhaps ted then ret. Maybe they'd ted, then ret, then tread on the fibers. It almost makes an algebraic equation: ted + ret = tread.

From: Mercer Jackson (mercerATjmjackson.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--ret

I remember my English grandmother talking about "retting up the dishes". I never quite knew what she meant, but she was apparently going to soak them before washing them.

    I think she would have said redding up the dishes. -Anu Garg

From: Richard Yarnell (ryarnellATbctonline.com)
Subject: Monkey sentences

In today's letter you call our attention to the National Geographic report of "sentences" formed by the "putty-nosed" monkey.

Coincidentally, during breakfast earlier today, my partner, Susan Nielsen, told me about her firsthand experience feeding chimps at the Portland, Oregon zoo during its experimental signing program.

The chimps were given a treat of watermelon which they'd not had before. When they wanted more, they were offered another treat since there had only been a limited amount of watermelon. After many adamant "no" headshakes, one of the chimps constructed a sentence that coined a name for the previously unfamiliar treat: "want sweet eat drink." Susan says the hackles still rise on the back of her neck when she recalls the moment.

From: Timothy Marvin (tmarvinATearthlink.net)
Subject: The word lee

It should be pointed out that when the term, "lee", is used in the term "lee shore", it means the side toward which the wind is blowing, meaning it is a difficult shore for a sailing vessel to move away from and is NOT a sheltered shore. When standing on the lee side of the quarterdeck, one is standing where the wind is not in one's face and therefore can be considered sheltered. The use of the term "sheltered" causes confusion when applied to the noun, "lee".

From: Eric Shackle (eshackleATozemail.com.au)
Subject: Lee

A rain shadow is the region on the lee side of a mountain or mountain range, where less rain or snow falls than on the windward side. "The rain it raineth every day / Upon the just and unjust fella / But more upon the just because / The unjust hath the just's umbrella." That much-quoted and witty verse could have been written by Ogden Nash, Hilaire Belloc, Lord Bowen, or US Senator Sam Erwin Jr. but does anyone know for sure who was the author? This is discussed in the June edition of my free e-book.

A language is a dialect that has an army and a navy. -Max Weinreich, linguist and author (1894-1969)

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