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AWADmail Issue 301

April 6, 2008

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

From: Sigmund Shapiro (sig shapiro.com)
Subject: Re: Fugetaboutit (Re: druthers)

I heard a Brooklyn-born Rabbi give a sermon in Baltimore using (with the proper spelling) fugedaboudit as a vehicle for overlooking interpersonal problems among friends and family. It works for me.

From: Johnnie Godwin (johnniegodwin aol.com)
Subject: Re: "Howdy"

Being from West Texas, "howdy" is a part of my heritage and life. In Russia as I worked at a book fair, I taught a young translator "howdy". The next day she tapped me on the shoulder and proudly said, "Hoot!"

In Stockholm at The City Hotel, I abruptly asked a man, "Howdy, where are y'all from?" He was shocked and replied, "Ahhhmm Sorrry; I speak only English." He was from Australia.

From: Judith B. Glad (gladhaus hevanet.com)
Subject: Druthers--an old friend

I learned this word at my great-aunt's knee, way back in the 1930s, when she was in her sixties. It was as much a part of her vocabulary as 'ain't', which to her was perfectly correct, as it had been when she was a child. Later my step-father, who was something of a linguist, used to scold me for using 'druthers', saying it wasn't a real word, but I had my druthers, and just kept on using it. Not until today was I aware of where it had come from, mostly because I'd just never thought about it.

From: Jacqueline Janelle Keh (jjanelle08 hotmail.com)
Subject: feedback: druthers

On the second season of the CBS show "How I Met Your Mother", Hammond Druthers is the name of the protagonist's boss at an architectural firm. Mr. Druthers was very particular about the details on his models. Like he'druther have it his way than anyone else's. AND he always took the credit. Apt name, I suppose.

From: Gail Holstein (gai aspensurfers.com)
Subject: druthers

I remember that in the comic strip Li'l Abner, people would "druther" eat their "druthers" than anything else. I always thought Al Capp invented the term. Does anybody know?

    The first citation of the word is from 1876 when Al Capp wasn't even born. He did help popularize it though.
    -Anu Garg

From: David Davis (ddavis017 centurytel.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--prithee

Prithee can sound like pretty. Maybe led to the redundant, Please, please, pretty please.

From: Stephanie Shattuck (shattuck68 yahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--willy-nilly

Once, when I was working at a small but prestigious law firm, we had a case before the Florida Supreme Court regarding polling places, about whether residents ought to be mandated only to vote at their own polling place or be allowed to go to another.

We had a secret side bet with the attorney arguing the case to see if he could get a Florida Supreme Court Justice to use the term willy-nilly, and he did! One Justice asked how we could be sure that people wouldn't go out, willy-nilly, and vote at any old polling place they pleased, thus creating a headache for the poll workers. We didn't win the case, but that attorney was still a winner in our book.

From: Arlan L. Rosenbloom (rosenal peds.ufl.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--willy-nilly

I thought that willy-nilly was the problem treated with Viagra!

From: Bonnie Loshbaugh (bloshbaugh wesleyan.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--blimey

I understand the religious exclamations were quite popular in medieval times. In the young adult book "Catherine, Called Birdy", the main character experiments with various God's (body part)! themed oaths. I think she settled on 'God's thumbs!' One of these contractions that is still in use, at least in comic books, is 'Zounds' -- a contraction of 'God's wounds'.

From: Margaret Roman (teragram gwi.net)
Subject: Cor blimey!

I was so pleased that you included this term in the week's offering. It took me back to my two years at a very Victorian British boarding school for blind and partially sighted girls in the mid-sixties. Because of having nothing to fear from this venerable exclamation, they used it with the reckless abandon that only frustrated teenagers can muster. But it was months before I had the guts to finally ask what it actually meant!

One of the girls had enough sight to read with the aid of a flashlight and magnifier. They decided to take advantage of having a resident American and so, each night after lights out, she read us sections of "The Catcher in the Rye". Sadly, I was a great disappointment, being clueless about the slang they wanted me to translate. In the end, I learned much more from them about language than they did from me.

From: Shannon O'Hara (sohara28 gmail.com)
Subject: Re: Blimey

"Other examples of similar euphemistic contractions, mostly out of use, are:
Strewth: God's truth
'sblood: God's blood
Lassy me: Lord save me"

It had never occurred to me before, but "Lawsy", a favorite expression of Prissy (in Gone with the Wind), must also be a contraction of "Lord save me." Prissy was always saying "Lawsy, Miss Scarlett..."

I wish HBO and the motion picture studios would consider returning to those exciting days of yesteryear and replacing the ubiquitous "F-bombs" with "lawsy", "blimey", or "strewth". People have become so inured to frequent foul language that the unexpected insertion of one of these antique oaths could be quite delightful.

From: John George (john.george enmu.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--blimey

I will observe that another of these "mostly out of use" contractions is "gadzooks", literally "God's hooks", allegedly referring to the nails with which Christ was affixed to the cross. Another antique term of surprise was "ods bodkin!" This meant "God's bodkin", where a bodkin is a kind of dagger (referred to in Hamlet, in the famous soliloquy).

I confess a fondness for archaic terms, forsooth.

From: Peg Ihinger (pihinger zelle.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--blimey

Another term, which I ran across while researching my second novel, set in the 17th century, is "oddsfish", which is a contraction/corruption of "God's flesh". I thought it sounded so funny and strange that I adopted it as my own personal cuss word to use when I was trying to break myself of the swearing habit. It's heard pretty frequently around my house.

From: Roderick Wilkins (roderick.wilkins cgi.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--blimey

Interesting you should say 'Strewth' has become archaic. If you lived in the UK, S. Africa, Australia, or New Zealand you would hear it often. Another mark of our US insularity, perhaps?

From: Jessica Bibbee (bibbeejessica yahoo.com)
Subject: "de lore" - conjoined words

I still remember the day when I was five years old and realized that the "delore" at the beginning of my prayers should indeed be pronounced "Dear Lord,..." -- a prime example of how a lack of understanding what is heard quickly gives way to a new pronunciation, though in this case, it didn't stick!

From: Ed Spaeth (edspaeth aol.com)
Subject: contracted words

If I had my druthers, I wouldn't have changed the word Halloween either. I liked the word when I first learned to spell it in grade school some 50+ years ago -- Hallowe'en. I don't know how many years ago it was when I first noticed that it was acceptable to spell it without the apostrophe. But, just now my computer has highlighted the word with the properly placed apostrophe as a spelling error.

From: Judge James A. Shapiro (judgeshapiro earthlink.net)
Subject: Words formed by contraction

This week's theme reminded me of the critical and common Spanish word "Usted". It is the formal form of the second person pronoun "you" (the analogue of "vous" in French and "Sie" in German). And it evolved as a contraction of the medieval-sounding "Vuestra Merced", or "your mercy".

The appropriately beautiful or ugly sound of any word is an illusion wrought on us by what the word connotes. -Max Beerbohm, writer, critic, and caricaturist (1872-1956)

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