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AWADmail Issue 285

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: Interesting stories from the net

The American Scholar

Plain English Campaign's "Foot in Mouth" Award:
BBC News

Clause and Effect:
The New York Times

From: Nikki Robbins (nikkir112 aol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--busman's holiday

This word brought fond memories back. I remember when a group of my friends wanted to go to tennis camp for a vacation. As a tennis coach who spent eight to ten hours a day on the court, that was the last place I wanted to go for a vacation. Alas I went and had a great time.

From: Jen Taylor Pollard (flamingbagels yahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--busman's holiday

How I needed this phrase nine months ago. As a Kansan living in London, I constantly find my vocabulary challenged. Working at the Globe Theatre, we have 600 volunteers who frequently come to shows when they are not working them, and almost all of them proudly declare they're on a Busman's Holiday.

From: Doris McInnes (javathehutt.java gmail.com)
Subject: busman's holiday

I am a school bus driver, and I enjoy driving. There is a difference between driving at work and driving on vacation. When I'm on vacation I can drive in a straight line and go where I want to, all without any students screaming behind me.

From: Grant Barrett (gbarrett worldnewyork.org)
Subject: Postman's holiday

A later variant is postman's holiday, which I define and trace back to at least as early as the 1920s.

From: Katy Wehr (kwehr remembergroup.com)
Subject: busman's holiday

I first learned this term when I read Dorothy L. Sayers's book "Busman's Honeymoon" in which her sleuths Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane find themselves uncovering another murder and solving the case while on their honeymoon.

From: Janette K. Taylor (janette webaccess.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--Curate's egg

"Curate's egg" finally set my mind to rest regarding a comment in Dorothy Sayers's "Busman's Honeymoon", one of my favorites. When the vicar asks Lord Peter Wimsey how he had passed the night (which also happened to be Wimsey and Harriet Vane's wedding night) he replied: "Parts of it were excellent."

From: Jody Tresidder (jodytres juno.com)
Subject: Re: curate's egg - further thoughts

I recently got into a pickle trying to explain "curate's egg" to an American teenager. He had casually said an idea was "good in parts" -- meaning it had both good and lousy elements, but overall was somewhat dubious -- and I'd replied brightly "Oh, like a curate's egg! [ho ho!]" and it went from there. He hadn't heard of a curate's egg.

It struck me, while I was explaining (I knew about the wonderful Punch cartoon) that the original import of the phrase was never the one actually popularly picked up? (This is why I got into a pickle).

That is, a bad egg is never remotely "good in parts". So the phrase isn't simply damning with faint praise. It's an example of desperately strained and comically absurd praise from an inferior -- for fear of giving offence?

I haven't seen the original du Maurier cartoon for years and years, but when you say the pictured egg was "stale", my memory suggests the egg was, in fact, rotten and understood to be obviously whiffy at least to the curate. (I think I can recall "smelly" lines above the curate's egg in its egg cup and flared nostrils too in the illustration).

In short, and you can probably see why the chat with the American teenager didn't progress too smoothly, "good in parts" was never meant to convey both positive and negative qualities. But only the latter, but with an odiously positive attempt at spin.

Nevertheless, the "mixed bag" meaning -- with an implicit understanding that the negative qualities probably have the edge, is the one we all accept?

This makes sense to me. Possibly I am completely wrong here!

Anyway, I always enjoy wordsmith. Thank you.

    Of course, the joke was there's no such thing as a partially rotten egg. But now the term, far away from its origin, both in distance and time, means someone having both good and bad parts.
    -Anu Garg

From: Frank Laird (flaird san.rr.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--widow's peak

Examples? Examples? You missed the best one of all: Eddie Munster!

From: George Dunlap (dunlapg umich.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--shank's mare

In the military, we called our all-leather combat boots "Cadillacs": black, shiny, and a mode of transportation. Also the dry irony that Cadillac is a luxury mode of transportation, while hiking miles and miles with a heavy pack isn't so much.

From: Roger Trent (roger.trent cdph.ca.gov)
Subject: feedback: shank's mare

The expression shank's mare has a funny modern equivalent. My kids, when they were in the U.S. Army, referred to their shoes as "leather personnel carriers".

From: William Risk (risk almaden.ibm.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--shank's mare

Today's term reminded me of a similar phrase my father often used to refer to walking: taking the ankle express.

From: Christopher L. Cahill (cahill gwu.edu)
Subject: Shank's mare (pony)

Was so happy for this phrase today. A favorite musician of mine -- Richard Thompson, has a song called "Walking the Long Miles Home". There is a line in there that says: "When you ride Shank's pony, you don't have to pay.' I figured this was a classic example of a misheard lyric. I have been saved!

From: Senft Birgitt (birgitt.senft fja.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--shank's mare

The translation into German also draws a picture "auf Schusters Rappen" and refers to be going on the black horse of the shoemaker, which simply means to go on foot.

From: Yosef Bar-On (jobaron galon.org.il)
Subject: Medical eponyms

Today's AWAD mentions diseases and syndromes named after physicians, such as Parkinson's Disease. This instantly reminded me of an incident of many years ago, which you might find interesting.

Thomas Hodgkin is the eponym of Hodgkin's Disease and once, while photographing ancient architectural sites near Tel Aviv, I discovered his grave in a tiny neglected graveyard in Jaffa, Israel. The graveyard, which included no more than half a dozen graves had two imposing tombstones, both overgrown with weeds. The first, of a forgotten British general, the other of Thomas Hodgkin.

I had to brush away the weeds to be able to decipher the inscription on Hodgkin's stone. In part it read, "Here rests the body of Thomas Hodgkin M.D. of Bedford Square, London. A man distinguished alike for scientific attainments, medical skills, and self-sacrificing philanthropy."

The minute cemetery still exists, behind and between several shops and residential houses. It is closed and forgotten and is surrounded by a rusting wire fence which does not keep out the neighborhood kids and, unfortunately, some drug addicts.

A further curious note is that while working and studying at Guy's Hospital in London, Hodgkin was a colleague of Richard Bright (1789-1858) and Thomas Addison (1793-1860). Both also had the dubious honor of having serious illnesses named after them.

For me, words are a form of action, capable of influencing change. -Ingrid Bengis, writer and teacher (b. 1944)

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