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AWADmail Issue 310

August 3, 2008

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

From: Ronald Newburgh (rgnew verizon.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--popinjay
Def: Somone who indulges in vain and empty chatter.

The word popinjay is very close to the German for parrot, Papagei. This shows the relation to the Arabic "babaga" quite clearly. It's also worth noting that Papageno, the bird catcher in Mozart's "Magic Flute", is certainly a popinjay in addition to his other qualities.

From: Terre Spencer (terrespencer mindspring.com)
Subject: popinjay

Lest your readers think that parrots engage in mindless chatter, let me relate the following:

Several years ago, my then two-year-old parrot, Basil, was perched on a small table perch aside me as I was working on the computer in the home office. I was completely engrossed in whatever I was writing and suddenly I heard:

"I'm hungry."

Did Basil just say "I'm hungry?" How could that be?

Was I imagining this? How did Basil know the meaning of the word "hungry"? I had not used this word with him. This was not part of his usual lexicon of "Hello", "Good morning", "What?", "Step-up", "Good Boy", "Bad bird", and a dozen or so simple words and phrases. How did he know that he was an "I am"? Could he have possibly mastered a contraction? I dismissed this as an imaginary event on my part and kept writing whatever it was that I was writing. Then again:

"I am hungry."

This time more insistently. Followed by more than four more repetitions, I finally came to know that Basil really did say "I'm hungry!" By now there was definitely using the exclamation mark in his communiques.

Astonished, I left the office to obtain a cup of clearly-requested bird food for my bird who was becoming quite commanding in his tone.

Puzzling over Basil's reference to himself as an "I" and his use of the contraction "I'm" and his ability to put that together with the word "hungry" to indicate his present state of appetite, I returned to the office, cup of parrot treats in hand, in disbelief.

As I entered the office, he cried out "Good girl!" with relieved exasperation.

Then he began mustering himself off the perch, eagerly moving toward the cup of treats that he had been awaiting. Even I, the doubting human, had to concede that he had clearly demanded something edible and expressed his approval when it was forthcoming.

Chatter? Since that time, he has repeated the phrase offhandedly, tucked within a string of phrases, like an opera singer warming up his voice before a performance. But when Basil wants treats, he firmly calls out "I'm hungry!" and repeats that until something edible is presented.

Mindless? Hardly. Basil has since put many words and events together to clearly communicate his desires/opinions/predictions.

Basil defies the root of the word popinjay, as do many parrots. Language takes twists and turns determined sometimes by misunderstandings, both auditory and perceptual. Yet, what a great pleasure to track the meanderings of meanings and the implicit beliefs held by those shaping our language!

From: Brian Price (b.j.price hotmail.com)
Subject: Popinjay

Many years ago I did archery as a hobby. While traveling in Holland, I came across a form of target practice called a Popinjay shoot. It involved firing vertically upward at a target placed on a pole about 10 metres in the air -- quite a hazardous undertaking, as what goes up, must inevitably come down, if the target is missed.

From: Karyn Lie-Nielsen (karyn lie-nielsen.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--croupier
Def: An attendant at a gaming table at a casino.

Funny you should mention that this word derives from a horse's rump. There is, in fact, a piece of equipment some horses are fitted with for riding called a crupper which is a strap that goes under the horse's tail and aids in keeping the saddle in place.

From: Rudy Rosenberg (rudyrr att.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--croupier

Coming from a family of gamblers, the word croupier entered my vocabulary at an early age. There are often "forgotten" chips left on the table after a number has come up; mostly left there by amateurs who tend to "carpet" chips all over. Often (at least in Europe) the croupier will ask who the chip belongs to. He might then direct the chip and its winnings to a pretty lady down on her luck; as was done to my mother in Ostende's Kuursal in Belgium.

A derivative is also "croupion" the southernmost part of the spine where the feathers of birds are attached. Jokingly calling a croupier a "croupion" is the surest way to be escorted out of a French casino.

From: Sarah Yardley (yardsend sonic.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--boustrophedon
Def: A method of writing in which lines are written alternately in opposite direction.

I was first introduced to this word by an exceptionally educated land surveyor, Ted Rollheiser. The USGS Township and Section surveys are numbered boustrophedonically. Within each Township, the first Section is at the northeast, and the last at the southeast, like this:

  6   5   4   3   2   1
  7   8   9  10  11  12
 18  17  16  15  14  13
 19  20  21  22  23  24
 30  29  28  27  26  25
 31  32  33  34  35  36
A Township is approximately 36 square miles, so each Section is approximately one square mile.

From: Robert J. Tristani (robert.tristani ngc.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--boustrophedon

I suppose the words NOON, TOOT, TAT, etc. will look the same, whether they are written on odd-numbered or even-numbered lines of boustrophedon.

From: Mark Chartrand (mrc mrchartrand.com)
Subject: Boustrophedon

You are reading this thanks to the boustrophedonic experience of a 14-year-old boy, Philo T. Farmsworth. While plowing a potato field, he realized that the back-and-forth lines were a good way to make images on a screen, thus inventing television and, from that, the computer monitor. While these "raster scan" devices actually produce a line at a time from left to right, rather than alternately as the line in plowing, this is the way all monitors still work today.

From: Lawrence Nagel (nagel mind.net)
Subject: Boustrophedon

I was delighted to see "boustrophedon" in AWAD. Long ago and far away, as an undergraduate at Portland State University in Oregon, I wrote this haiku:

Metronome fingers
transport boustrophedon sweeps
of her sleepy eyes

From: Aaron Feldman (saguaro_nine yahoo.com)

Subject: Boustrophedonic Code
I learned of boustrophedonic writing from James Joyce's Ulysses, in his Ithaca chapter, when Leopold Bloom encodes the name and address of a woman he has been having extramarital contact with:

"...addresser, Martha Clifford, c/o P. O. Dolphin's Barn: the transliterated name and address of the addresser of the 3 letters in reversed alphabetic boustrophedonic punctuated quadrilinear cryptogram (vowels suppressed) N. IGS./WI. UU. OX/W. OKS. MH/Y. IM: "

Some would say Ulysses is obfuscated enough without adding codes to the mix. ;-)

From: Michael J. Wagner (wagstr6 bellsouth.net)
Subject: boustrophedon

One form of boustrophedon might be the table madrigal constructed so that singers could sit opposite each other and sing the same page of music. Each musician would sing the page as it read to them, thus making the duet sing the composition both backward and forward. "In his A Plaine and Easie Introduction Morley included a number of vocal compositions. Dentes tui sicut greges is a motet (a sacred equivalent to the madrigal) for five voices (Cantus, Quintus, Altus, Tenor, Basis) printed in "table-book" format (two parts are printed upside down and two sideways). If the volume is laid on a table, each of the five singers can stand around it and see their part."

Ben Franklin is said to have composed some of this table music.

From: T. Philbin (tisairish comcast.net)
Subject: Re: boustrophedon

I was introduced to this word many years ago by the writer Colin Dexter in one of his Inspector Morse mysteries. As I remember it, Morse was walking boustrophedon through the rows of pews in a church, looking for something. Just the sort of word an inveterate crossword puzzler would choose to describe his perambulations.

From: Nadine Harrang (nadinejamesharrang msn.com)
Subject: animals

I used to have two Australian shepherd dogs, Dottie & Dundee (siblings). They were the best of buddies and loved each other. But, at times, the closeness seemed too burdensome -- some trivial thing would erupt -- and they would growl, fight, roll each over, one ending up on top (usually the male: Dundee) holding the other one down, one paw mounted on its prone form, and snarl, head up, teeth bared!!

It always elicited this response from me: "Oh, dogs! You're just about as bad as humans!"
(And, oh 'tis true, 'tis true!)

From: Eric Shackle (eshackle ozemail.com.au)
Subject: haggard
Def: Looking gaunt or exhausted, as from fatigue, suffering, hunger, age, etc.

You define haggard as "Looking gaunt or exhausted, as from fatigue, suffering, hunger, age, etc." Ruth Hamilton, a marvelous Floridian looked far from haggard even at the age of 109. She was the world's oldest blogger until she died early this year. For her inspiring bio, click here.

The shorter a word, the more meanings it has. -Paul A Delaney, meteorologist

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