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AWADmail Issue 331

Nov 2, 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

Political Vocabulary:
The Web of Language

Why Some People Have A Better Head For Languages:

From: Mark Conner (markd.conner verizon.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--cleave
Def: 1. To split or divide. 2. To stick, cling.

My favorite quotation from Queen Elizabeth I to her male advisors: "Had I been born crested, not cloven, you would not speak to me thus?"

From: Sidney Holt (sidneyholt mac.com)
Subject: Re-sign

When I was a Director in a United Nations organisation in Rome I came in one morning to find a draft letter on my desk, and a note from my secretary saying "Dr Holt, would you please resign?" I thanked her for asking me courteously instead of leading a demonstration demanding my dismissal.

From: Petronella J.C. Elema (pjc.elema planet.nl)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--cleave

Notably, both senses of "cleave" have come down to us in modern Dutch as well, though in slightly different forms: we use "kleven" - the German "kleben" - for to stick, and the related word "beklijven" for a mental impression which takes root. To split, in Dutch, is "klieven".

From: Wallace Coats (wjcoats gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--asperse
Def: 1. To spread false and malicious charges against someone. 2. To sprinkle with holy water.

Raised as a Catholic and trained from youth as a word fiend, I learned early that the pestle-looking wand that a priest uses to sprinkle holy water at a funeral or other time of blessing is an aspergillum. There are fancy names for all of those things. Later in life I found the word again, this time capitalized and in italics, in a book I was editing on plant diseases. "Aspergillus niger, a species of fungus that causes fig smut." And, presumably, spreads its spores far and wide.

From: R.Kulkarni M.D. (ramaa1 pacbell.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--asperse

Aspergillus is a fungus that can cause serious opportunistic infections in those with impaired immunity. It is named for its microscopic structure resembling a "holy water sprinkler".

From: Harry Grainger (the.harry gmail.com)
Subject: Contranyms

In the Defence Sector, it's a good thing to be down-selected, because that means that from a large number of candidate companies you have made it through to the next round of the selection process. Unlike the negative "down" words like downsize, downgrade, downplay, etc.

From: Paul Newfield (skip thebrasscannon.com)
Subject: Katrina

In the shadow of Hurricane Katrina, when someone wants to LEVEL his house, we don't know if he wants to straighten it our or tear it down. And pity the contractor who "razes" a home when he should have "raised" it.

From: Marcia Bosscher (bosscher tds.net)
Subject: Looking over

Your note on the word "oversight" reminded me of a visit my husband and I had with a friend in The Netherlands who was giving the introductory address to an international conference the next morning. He asked us to read his speech for any English language glitches. It was great -- except for the first sentence, "We are gathered together this week to overlook the last ten years of research in our field." I had not thought until then how dramatically different "overlook" is from "look over".

From: Elizabeth Danziger (lizd worktalk.com)
Subject: Down hill from there

One of my favorite phrases with two meanings is "It's all downhill from there." This can mean that once you reach a certain point everything will be easy, as in reaching the top of a hill and going easily down, or that everything will be bad from that point on, as in when one is in a bad situation and it will keep following the natural direction of down, down, down.

From: Grant Agnew (gtwa homemail.com.au)
Subject: Fence-sitters

On my first visit to the USA I came face to face with the difference between American and British/Australian usage of the word "momentarily". For Americans, it means "in a moment"; for us, it means "for a moment". So when American friends-of-friends who I'd contacted said to me, "We'll be with you momentarily", I wondered to myself why they would bother seeing me at all. The hospitality I did receive was always wonderful, of course; I just had to learn that not only the light switches in America are upside down.

From: Peggy Sullivan (pslibcon alumni.uchicago.edu)
Subject: Words with contradictory meanings

Have been especially enjoying this week's words. Thanks! They did make me think of two words that seem contradictory but apparently are not always so. Whenever I am at the ball park and hear, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game", I notice that some people sing, "I don't care if I ever go back!" and others sing, "I don't care if I never go back!" -- and the meaning is the same.

From: Dan Klein (dklein 21st-strategies.com)
Subject: contranyms

So if I'm offered a job that pays me "bimonthly" how often do I get paid? Every two months or twice a month? Yeah, really a useful word!

From: Bryan Flanery (bryanflanery adelphia.net)
Subject: Mind

I once instructed the babysitter to mind the kids; then I told the kids to mind the babysitter. Both were confused.

From: Brent Curtis (brent.curtis usmc.mil)
Subject: Contranyms

One of my favorite contranyms is the word sanction which, as a verb, can mean approve or mean punish. Frankly, in writing -- particularly descriptions of congressional actions -- it's difficult to divine which of the meanings is intended, even when viewing the word in context.

From: Shayla Hawkins (imagoodpoet yahoo.com)
Subject: A Mail Delivery Contranym

A few weeks ago, I got a magazine renewal form in the mail, and this was printed on the envelope:

last: adj. -- Only remaining, final
[the last issue of your subscription]

last: vi. -- Endure, continue, go on
[renew now to make your subscription last]

From: Yigal Levin (leviny1 mail.biu.ac.il)
Subject: Which side of the pond?

Having American-born parents and English-born in-laws, we often have family arguments about such dual-meanings. My wife recently offered an American guest "plain chocolate". It took him a moment to realize that she meant "dark chocolate" -- that is, without milk. To him (and to me), "plain" (ordinary) chocolate is milk chocolate.

From: Eric Shackle (eshackle ozemail.com.au)
Subject: copemates
Def: 1. An associate or friend. 2. An opponent or adversary.

Working on the Australian Army newspaper Guinea Gold towards the end of WWII, I had several copemates. Most of the time they were associates or friends, but if we were playing volleyball they could have been opponents or adversaries. For more about Guinea Gold, a unique publication which often scooped the world media, please see OhmyNews.

Language is an anonymous, collective and unconscious art; the result of the creativity of thousands of generations. -Edward Sapir, anthropologist, linguist (1884-1939)

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