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AWADmail Issue 244

January 14, 2007

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

From: Maurice Russell (maurice.russell which.net)
Subject: RE: A.Word.A.Day--malkin, and paying extra

I used to work with a guy who had a thing about long or unusual words. Whenever I used one he'd look at me and say "That's a very expensive word, what does it mean?"

From: Linda Sanders (actressteacher msn.com)
Subject: A.Word.A.Day--os

Here is another abbreviation for O.S. - "Old Style"

This is what was carved on Thomas Jefferson's tombstone for his date of birth:

BORN APRIL 2, 1743 O.S.
DIED JULY 4. 1826

You see, the Julian calendar was in effect in England and the colonies until 1752. The newly adopted Gregorian calendar, or "New Style", added 11 days to the Julian calendar to bring it into line with the astronomical year. Jefferson, apparently wanted posterity to know his actual birth date according to the calendar under which he was born, which was the "Old Style" or Julian calendar.

See monticello.org.

From: Michael Sivertz (sivertz bnl.gov)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--os

The theme for this week's words (words that have many unrelated meanings) reminds me of an annoying physics teacher who enjoyed concocting equations that contained the same character to represent many different quantities, just to maximize our confusion i.e. using the letter "e" to stand for "energy", "the electric charge on the electron", "the base for natural logarithms", and as a subscript for enumeration. It worked marvelously well.

From: Lydia Rivlin (l.rivlin btinternet.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gammon

"Gammon and spinach" is an expression meaning "nonsense". It is not much used nowadays but I think it must have been quite popular in the 18th and early 19th century. It survives today in a children's nursery rhyme "The Frog he would a-courting go" in which the expression features as part of the chorus. It must always be remembered that many songs we considered amusements for children nowadays started out as amusements for adults and used current adult expressions of their time.

It is possible that the word "gammon" as a verb meaning "to deceive" came from the concept of confusing someone with nonsense.

The frog he would a-courting go,
Hey-ho said Rolley.
The frog he would a-courting go,
Whether his mother would let him or no
With a roly poly, gammon and spinach
Hey-ho says Anthony Rolley.
[there are several more verses to this!]

From: David H Mackenzie (davidmackenzie grapevine.net.au)
Subject: RE: A.Word.A.Day--gammon

G'day from Down Under.

My father used the term "gammon" to mean make believe or "just kidding" as in "He's just talking gammon" or "It's only gammon." This use fits in with its being used as a verb to deceive or fool. He told me that Australian aborigines he'd worked with in outback stock camps in the 1920s used the word to convey these meanings. I never queried the origin but the many and varied forms of pidgin English aborigines used took words from many languages, so it's not surprising, even if we aren't sure of the actual origin. I haven't heard it much in Australia since my Dad died. The "Oxford Dictionary of slang" (1992), which is not restricted to Australian slang alone, suggests British origins, insincere or nonsensical talk intended to deceive or flatter; humbug, rubbish. As a verb, it might have been derived from the 18th and 19th century thieves' slang "to give gammon" or "keep someone in gammon" as a distraction while an accomplice robs him. Oxford suggests this usage links back to backgammon.

From: Nan Koenig (skoenig midsouth.rr.com)
Subject: Gammon

Gammon is commonly used in Scots to describe all ham. There are little pockets of Scots in Southwest and Southeast Scotland. South of Glasgow, for instance, you'll get asked if you'd like a fry-up for breakfast with gammon and black pudding (just don't ask what black pudding is). Personally, I like it, but I had to ask.

From: Christine Thresh (christine winnowing.com)
Subject: Re: gammon

Gammon, in the sense of "to deceive or to fool", was the clue that solved a mystery in an Agatha Christie Miss Marple short story.

From: Charles Hruska (chruska earthlink.net)
Subject: Gammon

Here is another possible meaning for "Gammon". I suppose that, as a verb, [to gammon the bowsprit] it could be one way to describe the application of "gammoning".

William Falconer's Dictionary of the Marine, G, page 606

Gammoning, (lieure, Fr.) a rope used to bind the inner quarter of the bowsprit close down to the ship's stem, in order to enable it the better to support the stays of the foremast. See southseas.nla.gov.au.

From: Susan Walker (violetwind earthlink.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--fizgig

"Fizzgig" is the name of a small creature in "The Dark Crystal" (Henson & Oz). Since designed along the lines of a small, fuzzy, yappy dog, one could say that Fizzgig's energy does indeed evoke a spinning top.

From: Ross Miller (boatmiller snet.net)
Subject: Homonyms, etc.

This week's words are homonyms, and possibly homographs if not homophones, too.

Last year, when the United States Congress was busy with such important matters as trying to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage, I concocted a bumper sticker that read "God Hates Homophones." The first to ask me about it was a woman in a car with another woman, for what that's worth. She asked what a homophone was, and I explained, using "see" and "sea" as examples. "OK" she said, still thoughtful. Then she asked why God hated them, and I said that it was because God was a poor speller and She found them frustrating. At that point her concern seemed alleviated, if her smile was any indication.

After a few weeks, though, I removed it because many people seemed to be jumping to conclusions from the first four letters of the third word and mistaking me for a bigot. It was refreshing to find that their hearts were in the right place, even if they were careless readers.

Words, like Nature, half reveal and half conceal the Soul within. -Alfred, Lord Tennyson, poet (1809-1892)

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