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AWADmail Issue 270

July 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 at wordsmith.org)
Subject: AWADmail on hiatus

This will be the last issue of AWADmail until September, as I will be traveling. A.Word.A.Day (AWAD), however, will continue as usual.

From: Denise (eguana13 wanadoo.fr)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--detente

The French have always been slightly bemused at this word choice to refer to an easing of tension between rivals.

Détente is also the French word for "trigger".

From: Martin Cobern (mecobern cox.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--detente

The word détente has several definitions in French. One is the lowering of gas pressure resulting from its expansion (relaxation) according to Boyle's Law. The word détente also refers to the device in a musket that releases the firing mechanism. As I recall, several commentators noted this dichotomy during the Nixon Presidency when discussing Kissinger's détente strategy.

From: Melinda Ledman (melinda hollywoodjesus.com)
Subject: Re: Detente

I was so excited yesterday when I ran across a word from this week. I've only subscribed to AWAD. for about five weeks now, and I really didn't think I'd run across any of the words I've learned so far. But...

As I was polishing some antique presidential silver spoons that I inherited from my grandmother, I saw something familiar. Each spoon has a president's name, and a picture and words that highlight something they were known for in their administration. The one for Nixon says "Détente" and has hands clasped over an image of the world. On one side, it says Russia and on the other, it says China.

I was so elated that I knew the word (having been starved for new words since graduating from college)! I ran in to my husband and showed him the spoon and gave him an almost verbatim definition from your email! It made my day.

From: Andrew Pressburger (andrew.pressburger primus.ca)
Subject: Detente

The French cognate entente (understanding) raises the detente to an even higher level, since it refers to an actual (albeit informal) alliance between two parties. The Entente cordiale, signed between Great Britain and France in 1904 helped remove the tension, caused by colonial rivalry, between the two countries as they perceived the common danger threatening them from resurgent Germany.

Later, in the first World War, the alliance joined in the meantime by Russia, came to be known as the Triple Entente. In those days of grandiloquence, likewise an attribute of diplomacy, members of such groups referred to each other as the High Contracting Parties.

From: Raymond Mendez (rm britcap.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--plenipotentiary

My father was an Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. We used to call him Ambassador Plenty Potent, which made him smile slyly and our mother giggle.

He enjoyed his U.N. post if only because he never had to remember the names of his ambassadorial colleagues. When moniker memory failed, a simple "Your Excellency" sufficed.

From: Dan Jaffe (comconsult comcast.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--extraterritoriality

I'm sure I'm not the only person who is immediately reminded of Stephen Sondheim's "Pacific Overtures" by this word. Here are the Russian ambassador's lines on the subject -- in poor English, but perfect rhyme -- in the song "Please Hello":

Coming next
Is extraterritoriality.
Noting text
Say "extraterritoriality".
You perplexed
By "extraterritoriality"?
Just noting clause
(Don't touch the coat!)
Which say your laws
Do not apply
(Don't touch the coat!)
When we drop by --
Not getting shot,
No matter what:
A minor scrape,
A major rape,
And we escape
(Don't touch the cape!)
That's what is extraterritoriality.

And the British ambassador, in his best Gilbert and Sullivan-style patter, says:

The British feel these latest dealings verge on immorality.
The element of precedent imperils our neutrality.
We're rather vexed, your giving extraterritoriality.
We must insist you offer this to every nationality!

From: Peter O'Malley (peter.omalley usdoj.gov)
Subject: extraterritoriality

Your definition gives the diplomatic sense of the word, but the quotation refers more to the connotation embraced by the legal doctrine known as the presumption against extraterritoriality, which, in U.S. law, essentially means that, absence evidence to the contrary, laws (of the federal government or of the states) that apply within the jurisdiction of the USA should not be presumed to operate outside its borders.

Hence, the American tourist arrested in France, for example, would not be able to insist on the "right to remain silent", as the Miranda decision's reading of the Fourth Amendment does not apply elsewhere (nor, of course, does the amendment itself). There have been some unflattering (to us) applications of this principle in the news recently!

From: Idan Bearman (idannahag yahoo.com)
Subject: A.Word.A.Day--extraterritoriality

Obviously not a Hebrew or Arabic word, it is, nevertheless, pretty common in daily conversations in Israel. It is used to imply that someone is, or see themselves, as above the law. Commonly used in reference to V.P. Cheney, American corporations, certain football (soccer) stars, and the national phone company.

From: Michael Har-Even (mhareven nds.com)
Subject: diplomat

You mean it has nothing to do with being two-faced?

From: Fred Buggie (bigbuggie aol.com)
Subject: feedback: diplomat

My Father used to tell me:

"When a diplomat says 'yes' he means 'maybe'; when he says 'maybe' he means 'no'; if he says 'no' he's no diplomat!
"When a lady says 'no' she means 'maybe'; when she says 'maybe' she means 'yes'; if she says 'yes' ..."

The English language is rather like a monster accordion, stretchable at the whim of the editor, compressible ad lib. -Robert Burchfield, lexicographer (1923-2004)

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