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AWADmail Issue 317

July 20, 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

For Some Africans, Scrabble More Than Just a Game:
Associated Press

2b or not 2b?
The Guardian

From: Alan Ritch (aritch berkeley.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--grammatolatry
Def: The worship of words: regard for the letter while ignoring the spirit of something

There are few more tragic examples of grammatolatry than the near-fetishist obsession with the words of a document cobbled together by eighteenth century politicians using eighteenth century language. If contemporary English is inherently ambiguous, how much more problematic is the intention of a text interpreted through a filter of more than two centuries of unprecedented technological, societal, and political change.

And yet the nine people who, almost literally, hold our lives in their hands parse this prose like so many tea leaves, while ignoring the stark reality of the streets just beyond their marble halls. Would the founding fathers' "arms" -- quaintly cumbersome weaponry in the relatively benign context of the early republic -- truly embrace the brutally efficient killing instruments of our time?

From: Bill Peters (billjanet earthlink.net)
Subject: catachresis
Def: The misuse of words

I went to many business meetings and began to collect the catachresis statements. Here is my best:
"You've got to step up to the plate or the wheels will fall off".
Heard at a seminar of the Chemical Industry of California circa 1988.

From: Vaishali Kamath (vaishali.kamath cognizant.com)
Subject: Catachresis

A brother-in-law of mine once said (probably without knowing that it was wrong usage):
"...and the share prices plummeted gradually."

From: Carolyn Silver (carsilver juno.com)
Subject: catachresis

A wonderful mixed metaphor was uttered a few years ago by Alan Murray of the Wall Street Journal on Jim Lehrer's Newshour: "It all depends on whether Clinton will step up to the plate and take the bull by the horns."

From: Kevin O'Grady (kevin.ogrady ontario.ca)
Subject: catachresis

My favourite example of catachresis is that of Camil Samson, who was the leader of the Quebec Social Credit Party campaigning against the governing Union Nationale in the 1970 provincial election:
"Ladies and gentlemen, the Union Nationale has brought you to the edge of the abyss. With Social Credit, you will take one step forward."

From Gabe Helou (gabe mystery.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--parapraxis
Def: A slip of the tongue (or pen) that reveals the unconscious mind

And not entirely without reason. In his famous dictionary, Johnson defined oats as, "A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people."

I expect you will be flooded with e-mail from people quoting Boswell's rejoinder:

"Aye, and that's why England has such fine horses, and Scotland such fine people."

Still, it bears repeating.

From: Leilani Chandler (leilani nortonmusic.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--orthoepy
Def: 1. Study of the pronunciation of words. 2. Customary pronunciation of a language.

What a laugh-filled moment this word brought to me this morning! Definition: study of the pronunciation of words... and the word for that action has TWO pronunciations. What a delightful bit of unintentional humor. Thank you.

From: Jen W (jnw1184 gmail.com)
Subject: AWAD in law school personal statement

I just wanted to thank you for your emails. I love receiving them, and I am happy to say that I was recently admitted to the University of Pennsylvania Law School -- and you helped!

I crafted my personal statement around a word you sent out a while back: esprit d'escalier. This is without a doubt my favorite word that you've ever sent. I discussed the personal philosophy I have formed from the original definition, in the sense that I now aim to be more observant and appreciative of all circumstances I am in, lest I realize mere moments too late that I have taken a step away from what opportunities I might have had to make meaningful statements in my life.

Congrats on your admission to the law school! Our bill is in the mail. (-:
-Anu Garg

Arguments over grammar and style are often as fierce as those over Windows versus Mac, and as fruitless as Coke versus Pepsi or boxers versus briefs.
-Jack Lynch, English professor, author (b. 1967)

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