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AWADmail Issue 250

April 15, 2007

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

From: Anu Garg (words wordsmith.org)
Subject: Wordsmith chat

Slang -- Degradation or reinvigoration of the language?

Join us for a chat on slang. Our guest will be Grant Barrett, lexicographer, editor, and radio show host.

Where: Wordsmith Chat
When: Apr 22, 2007, 6 pm Pacific (GMT -8)

From: Louisa Nahem (nahem sonic.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--testaceous

I just thought I'd let you know that I work for Copperfield's, a wonderful independent bookstore in Santa Rosa, California, which had the honor of hosting author Susan Patron, the writer of the 2007 Newbery Award winning children's book "The Higher Power of Lucky" which you referred to at the beginning of this week's supposedly objectionable words.

The event was well attended and needless to say, the censorship subject came up in the Q&A. Patron, who claimed to be a very private person, was genuinely surprised by the whole thing (including winning the award to begin with!), but has dealt with the ordeal with grace and style. She was truly a delight and I will always treasure my signed copy of The Higher Power of Lucky. By the way, I brought her a copy of your newsletter and she was delighted. She also gets your AWAD, so she'd read it, but told me she didn't have a printer so she was very grateful to have it.

And P.S: my email filter has proven to share my sensibilities and "take" on censorship; I received all of your words this week. Good thing; I was planning a censorship-worthy letter of complaint if I'd missed any!

From: Robert Nowell (rrnowell cox.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--testaceous

So you are the self-appointed arbiter of right and wrong and not parents and teachers or others... does this also mean you are the Judge... even god? You criticize those who disagree with you and laud the book because of its national award. I would counter that those assigning the awards are not "the" arbiters of truth either.

    You'd be within your rights not to buy the book or borrow it from the library. The problem begins when you try to ban it and deny it to others.
    -Anu Garg

From: Michael Nellis (michaelnellis yahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--testaceous

Here's an excerpt from an article by the award-winning author whose book generated controversy:

"Of course, adults are right to fear a word in a book, although not, as in this instance, because it names a body part. They are right in the implied assumption that books have enormous power and influence. Children who read widely understand more about the world; they have a foundation for making better decisions. They think, and because of that, they may even challenge their parents' beliefs. For some, a scary idea, but isn't a thinking child preferable to one who accepts the world at face value and has no aim to change it for the better?"
-Susan Patron, 'Scrotum' as a Children's Literary Tool, Feb 27, 2007. Read the complete article at latimes.com

From: Linda C Davenport (ldavenport unum.com)
Subject: RE: A.Word.A.Day--testaceous

Imagine...allowing children to hear the word scrotum! And what about heart, liver, lung, arm, or toe? They're all body parts; why are some so bad and others are ok?

I'm afraid there's far more upside down about our culture than just our fear of words. A seventeen-year-old is (arguably with good reason) protected from pornography; that same young adult can watch a slasher movie anytime. Why are deliberate cruelty and unspeakable violence more appropriate than human sexuality?

From: Marta Guirao (martaguirao yahoo.es)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--testaceous

Since I was a teenager, reading and translating De Bello Gallico and other Latin classics, I've known and loved a related Latin word, "testudo". It means "turtle", but also the attack formation where a group of soldiers held their shields around them and also over their heads, thus forming a "turtle" that could move while being protected by a "shell" of shields all around.

From: Greg Sampson (gsampson westianet.net)
Subject: feedback: vomitorium

A number of years ago, a group of savvy high school Latin students from Irondequoit, NY put up a sign over one of the passageways in Rochester's Red Wing (baseball) stadium, with VOMITORIUM emblazoned on it, along with arrows to indicate desired direction of flow. Stadium officials removed the sign within a half hour.

From: Joel Mabus (joel.mabus pobox.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--vomitorium

It is an uncommon word in American theaters, but I see it occasionally. I am a musician. The first time I performed at the Power Center in Ann Arbor (a modern performing arts center built in the 1970s at University of Michigan) backstage I saw a large arrow pointing to the "vomitorium". Unfamiliar with the word but curious, I followed the arrow, and after a torturous journey though dimly lit passageways I arrived at a door that opened on the lobby.

And that is the modern usage. It is a passageway from backstage to the front of the house without having to walk amidst the patrons by traveling the aisles of the theater seating (or leaving via the stage door and going around outside the theater). A useful thing to have when an actor needs an entrance from the floor of the theater, or when a performer needs to visit the box office once the patrons are seated. Many, if not most, traditional theaters have some sort of vomitorium, but few in America call it that, per se.

From: Donna Bogan (dgbogan sbcglobal.net)
Subject: vomitorium

"The suggestion that a vomitorium was the place for the ancient Romans to vomit during a feast has no basis."

I think the blame for this in the US goes solely to Saturday Night Live which aired a skit with Burt Reynolds as host -- sometime in the late 1980s or early 90s. The "vomitorium" skit played the above theory to the hilt. It was the last time my father ever watched SNL -- it nearly sent HIM to the bathroom.

From: Peggy Durbin (m_durbin msn.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--titivate

One of my favorite books, the hilarious The Stuffed Owl: an Anthology of Bad Verse, has an equally hilarious index. I first found the word "titivate" when I was reading the index (graduate school, 1972; you read indexes, bibliographies, notes, and acknowledgments): "Gabriel, the Archangel, titivates himself."

From: Dee Maltby (dmaltby wcnet.org)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--cockshut...;-D

Possibly the opposite of "cockcrow", meaning the earliest dawn can be detected.

From: Cecile Hessels (v.hessels versatel.nl)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--cockshut

This is what I got on the old websters-online-dictionary.org when I tried to look for the various definitions of the word 'cock'.

(We only learned it in school in the meaning of : the adult male of the domestic chicken (Gallus gallus).


I'm sorry, the word you requested may be inappropriate for children. We require a password to view the page.The answer to any of these questions is a valid password for this page:

1. Cher's former partner's last name (4 letters)
2. The cube root of twenty seven (5 letters)
3. The "incident" before the Vietnam War (6 letters)
4. The theory that physiology and physics are drivers of economics (15 letters)
5. A good mustard (5 letters)

As it was not the right moment for playing games I turned to OneLook.com and there the dictionaries (not all though) gave the straight answers.

From: Doug Keeslar dfinagle (dfinagle frontiernet.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--turdiform

I have perhaps a hundred scientific names for various plants and animals firmly committed to memory. Among the firmest of those is the name of the American Robin Redbreast. That is to say Turdus Migratorius. Another that gives me pause because of the folklore that it must fossilize is the genus name of the nighthawks and whippoorwills, caprimulgiformes -- the goatsuckers.

From: Luis Vallespín (lvallespin mi.madritel.es)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--turdiform

In Spanish, today's word would not be risqué at all; after all, our word for thrush (tordo) comes directly from the same latin root.

But it would hardly be complimentary. In Spain we have a saying that we sometimes apply (uncharitably) to other people's physical shape. We say they have "el tipo del tordo: la cabeza pequeña y el culo gordo" ("the shape of the thrush: a small head and a fat ass").

From: Anne Laird (amsl1945 bellsouth.net)
Subject: response to remailleuse

Remembering my college days during WWII, I recall that yes, we did use leg makeup to simulate unavailable stockings but I never saw anyone simulate a run! Stockings then had seams, and what we did for greater authenticity was draw a seamline down the back of our legs with an eyebrow pencil. It wasn't easy!

I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything. -Steven Wright, comedian (1955- )

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