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AWADmail Issue 291

January 27, 2008

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: Interesting stories from the net

The Last of Nepal's Dura Speakers:

Last Native Speaker of Eyak Language Dies:
Anchorage Daily News

Wordprocessor to Write a Book is So Yesterday. Try a Cellphone:
The New York Times

It's Like, IMing Is So Like Talking:

And a few stories about my latest book:
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Deccan Herald.

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Chat with Seth Lerer, author of "Inventing English"

Come chat with Seth Lerer, a professor at Stanford University and author of "Inventing English". The topic of the chat is the history of the English language.
Wed, Feb 6, 7pm Pacific (GMT -8)

From: Ray Hattingh (ray saarp.co.za)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--cordon bleu

Is English the only language that can describe a blackberry as green when it's red?

From: Rod Van Meter (rdv sfc.wide.ad.jp)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--cordon bleu

Here in Japan, the light does not turn "green", it turns "blue"!

The Japanese word for green is "midori" (yes, of liqueur fame), and the word for blue is "ao", however, as I understand it (though I am no lexicographic historian), midori is a much younger word than ao. For reasons few seem able to articulate, Japanese historically had a somewhat limited verbal palette for the infinite variety of colors, though it is augmented by such natural constructions as "ha-iro" for "ash-color" (gray) or "mizu-iro" for the blue color of water.

Traffic signals are the same color as in the U.S. (a blue-green), but are universally referred to here as "ao-shingo" (blue light) (nothing to do with K-mart).

It's not just that they choose to label one ambiguous color as being on the other side of the line; "ao" simply has a broader meaning. Green tree frogs are "ao-gaeru", and one's youth may be referred to as "seishun" (blue spring).

I could go on about the colors of tea and others, but that's enough for now.

From: Petronella J.C. Elema (elema055 planet.nl)
Subject: feedback: cordon bleu

I don't know about French usage, but in the Netherlands, "cordon bleu" primarily means a breaded veal schnitzel, split and filled with slices of ham and cheese, then cooked. It is an old stand-by and appears on restaurant menus as a matter of course: not in the least adventurous, but safe, and you know what you're getting.

    Yes, it seems to be common in most of the Western world. I have received email about it from readers in other places.
    -Anu Garg

From: Dominique Mellinger (dominiquemellinger yahoo.co.uk)
Subject: cordon bleu

In contemporary French, "cordon bleu" means a very fine non-professional cook (more often female) who cooks in their own kitchen as opposed to a chef who is a professional.

My mother is a "fin cordon bleu" or "vrai cordon bleu" but two of my uncles were real "chefs". It is also more often used for women, even though you'll see it applied to men too, but maybe this only reflects the fact that in everyday life there are still a lot more women to do the more complicated time-consuming cooking that qualifies them as "cordons bleus".

From: John Stifler (jstifler econs.umass.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--redbrick

The term "redbrick" may date from a post-WWII era, but it's inaccurate to say those British universities were "built...after WWII." I myself attended one of them, Manchester University, which most definitely began its life in the 19th century, as did many other redbricks.

    Thanks for the correction. See also the following messages.
    -Anu Garg

From: Charles Neame (c.neame cranfield.ac.uk)
Subject: Redbrick university

"Lacking prestige" is one meaning of redbrick, in the a relative sense (e.g. a redbrick lacks the prestige of Oxbridge). It does not, however, refer to the post WW2 universities - quite the opposite, as the original redbricks were the imposing civic universities established by the Victorians in the great industrial and commercial cities of England in the 19th Century: Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Bristol, and Leeds. They were established largely as technical universities aimed at driving the industrial revolution by producing engineers and other professionals, and thus contrasted with the classical "knowledge for its own sake" position of the Oxbridge institutions. In contrast with the "concrete and glass" universities that followed 100 years later, however, in the first attempt to open up university education to wider participation, the term redbrick itself becomes a term of elitism, as the redbricks constitute the core of the UK's 'elite' Russell Group of research intensive universities.

Charles Neame
Cranfield University (concrete, glass and some reddish-brown bricks)

From: Brian Edmondson (b.edmondson ntlworld.com)
Subject: Redbrick

The term Redbrick was originally coined about the University of Liverpool Victoria Building, currently undergoing refurbishment and designed by Alfred Waterhouse who also designed the "Prudential" buildings around cities in the UK.

From: John Tittmann (jtittmann alriti.com)
Subject: Redbrick

Another origin theory for Ivy League, perhaps apocryphal but amusing nonetheless, is that the Ivy League was named not for the green ivy growing on walls and but rather for the supposed collective name of the original four universities--IV League.

    That's a great story but it's not true as there never were four colleges in the collective.
    -Anu Garg

From: Bob Strauss (strauss email.wcu.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--purple prose

Ah, yes. Once upon a time, in a Community College, I wrote: "Shakespeare cloaked his sewer humor in a silken shawl of sound." The professor wrote, in purple ink: "purple prose".

From: Chips MacKinolty (chips.mackinolty nt.gov.au)
Subject: feedback: white-shoe

In Australia--especially in the state of Queensland of the 1980s--the term "white-shoe" was invariably "white-shoe brigade", a pejorative description of less than lovely land and property developers, hand-in-glove with local and state governments of the day.

From: Pierre E. Biscaye (biscaye ldeo.columbia.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--white-shoe

In around the first half of the 20th Century, at least in some Ivy-League schools, but perhaps more widely, "white-shoe", with its connotation of WASPy wealth, evolved to simply "shoe", with the "white" implied.

From: Peter Matson (peter sll.com)
Subject: Re: feedback: white-shoe

There was a time, from the late 40s to early 60s (when "the 60s" took over) that anyone in the Ivy League who aspired to be in what would later be called the in-crowd, had to be seen wearing scuffed (always scuffed, even if just bought, brand new) white bucks. There was no alternative. Thus white-shoe; indeed to be known as someone "not white-shoe" was to be condemned to otherness, probable financial ruin and certain social ineptitude.

Peter Matson, (Harvard, '56 - if I had bought my pair of white bucks and stayed in school)

From: Rhee Lyon (rheelyon tampabay.rr.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--white-shoe

At mid century when I went from a small Midwest town to Smith College, I had to learn a new vocabulary. One of the words was "shoe" which was short for "white shoe". He is "so shoe" was a compliment and told you everything you needed to know. It meant that the college boy in question was upper class and knew all the ways of the upper class. Certainly he was not first generation at college or new wealth.

From: Jennifer Pols (jennifer.pols gmail.com)
Subject: White shoe

In South Africa we referred to men working at traditional Afrikaans banks, in the 60s and 70s, as grey shoes. Its a derogatory term for little people wielding power in middle management and feeling very important. Needless to say their shoe colour of preference seemed to be grey. Dentists and medical reps would have worn white shoes. Odd how we differ. Of course nowadays younger people wouldn't know what I was talking about.

From: Mandell Matheson (okie56 swbell.net)
Subject: feedback: white-shoe

Perhaps we're a bit more quaint here in Oklahoma. I've never heard the "white-shoe" reference. We always referred to the hoity-toity class as the "silk drawers crowd".

From: C. Hessels (v.hessels versatel.nl)
Subject: feedback: white-shoe

"[John] Street's problem was that, unlike the white-shoe lawyers and sleek inside players who'd mastered this game, his people were new to the trough."
Chris Satullo; Not a Crook, But Still a Failure; Philadelphia Inquirer (Pennsylvania); Jan 5, 2008.

It would be wiser anyway not to wear white shoes in the vicinity of a trough.

From: Kerry Lewis (kerry holdermathias.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--blue streak

Blue Streak will only ever mean one thing to your British Readers: a colossal waste of money. It was the name given to a missile which was eventually cancelled around 1960 because it didn't work. This was, of course, after vast sums of money had been wasted on its development.

It is ironic to see that others think it means "something moving very fast". The missile moved nowhere fast.

From: Hawley Roddick (hroddick comcast.net)
Subject: color as metaphor

Anyone interested in color as metaphor might want to read If It's Purple, Someone's Gonna Die by Patti Bellatoni. From Amazon.com: ... a highly entertaining exploration of the world of color and its impact on our emotions. Told through a careful analysis of motion pictures that have used color to enhance or define their characters or dramatic needs, we are given a lively and insightful view of our reactions to the film experience.

Leading us gently but firmly through places we may have taken for granted, we find revelations that can be of real help to readers who use color to shape emotional responses to concepts, as well as physical environments. We can never again take the world of color for granted." --Robert Boyle, four-time Oscar-nominated Production Designer (North by Northwest, The Birds, The Thomas Crown Affair, Fiddler on the Roof)...

From: Karlos D Allen (karlos.d.allen intel.com)
Subject: E.B. White quotation (Re: AWADmail 290)

The quotation about language being like a cowpath reminded me of what H. Beam Piper had one of his characters say, "English is the product of a Saxon warrior trying to make a date with an Angle bar-maid, and as such is no more legitimate than any of the other products of that conversation." (Victor Grego in Fuzzy Sapiens)

High is our calling, Friend!--Creative Art / (Whether the instrument of words she use, Or pencil pregnant with ethereal hues,) / Demands the service of a mind and heart. -William Wordsworth, poet (1770-1850)

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