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AWADmail Issue 342

Jan 18, 2009

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

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the net

Cell-phone Novels in Japan:
The New Yorker

The Obama Buzzword That Hit Pay Dirt:
The Washington Post

And some from the offline world:

Flowers Have No Names: The revival of Hebrew as a living language:
Natural History Magazine, Feb 2009

Spreading the Word: The new Scrabble mania:
New Yorker, Jan 19, 2009

From: Marty Smith (marty.smith gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--nugatory
Def: 1. Of little value; trifling. 2. Having no force; ineffective

When issuing updates to technical documents produced for the DoD, a cover letter always describes the reasons for the version change. As irreverent engineers, a favorite reason was to "remedy nugatory lacunas".

From: J Jarvis (jay.jarvis gmail.com)
Subject: Nugatory

You have finally AWADed what might be the best word in the English language. I am a judge, and, due to what most would probably consider a warped sense of humor, love to use Latin maxims and Latinate phrases (perhaps due to taking five years of Latin).

On one occasion I responded to a young attorney's argument by observing that a case she had cited had been overruled, "thereby rendering it nugatory." She gave me a confused stare. She later came up to me to confess that she had thought I had said that the case was "rendering it a noogie."

From: David Levine (dlevine uci.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--pneuma
Def: Spirit, soul

In "Brave New World", the heroine is described as pneumatic. I thought that meant spirited, but, upon looking it up back then, found it to mean chesty.

From: Frank Hartmann (franhart sarmc.org)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--newel
Def: A center column supporting a spiral staircase or a post supporting the handrail of a staircase

One of the reasons I enjoy Word.A.Day so much is the occasional revelation that occurs when I think to myself, "Aha! I knew there was a word for that!" Newel is such a word and I found its etymology to be particularly interesting as well. The kernel, both in a seed and in a computer operating system, functions as the base structure that supports the core functionality of all the other systems attached to it. When I picture a circular stairway built upon a core central structure, the newel, I readily understood how the word came to be defined as it is.

From: Dave Zobel (zobeldave aol.com)
Subject: N as in Newel post

Ah, I'm reminded of "Telephone", the classic Mike Nichols and Elaine May sketch in which a feckless Information operator renders the name Kaplan thus: "K as in Knife, A as in Aardvark, P as in Pneumonia, L as in Luscious, A as in Aardvark again, N as in Newel post."

From: Melee Valett (mvalett mt.gov)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--neuston
Def: The aggregate of minute aquatic organisms that inhabit the surface of a body of water

My Master's thesis was on the subject of Neuston... many years ago (1984). It turns out that many of the commercial shellfish we eat have life stages that inhabit the "surface microlayer". And many of the algae species found there actually are bottom dwellers, benthic species hitching a ride on the 50 micron thick surface layer. These algae also have elevated levels of "sun screen" pigments as compared with their benthic brethren.

From: Richard M Stallman (rms gnu.org)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--nubilous
Def: 1. Cloudy, misty, or foggy. 2. Vague or obscure

"Nubilous" applies to a woman when one can't quite tell whether her age is 18 or 38. ;-).

From: Karen Sorensen (karen_sorensen cmsitechnologies.com)
Subject: Words are a wonderful and free gift to give one's grandkids

My grandkids look forward to the A.Word.A.Day each time we spend time together. Can you imagine being referred to as my seven-year-old's "incomparable and indubitably ubiquitous grandmother"? Or, can you imagine the delight when she discovers that the teapot is symmetrical from the front but is no longer symmetrical when it is spun around to show both the handle and the spout? And, what is best, words are gifts kids never outgrow.

From: Ken Kirste (kkkirste sbcglobal.net)
Subject: "Signs: Wordplay in Photography" Exhibit

An exhibit opens January 17 at the de Young museum in San Francisco, titled: "Signs: Wordplay in Photography" and continues through June 14, 2009. The museum's description of the exhibit states:

The communications theorist Marshall McLuhan called advertising 'the greatest art form of the twentieth century'. It is not surprising to find that signs appear with greater frequency in modern and contemporary photographs than in any other medium. Even before the Pop Art movement, they were admitted into the photographic frame as bold graphic elements. There they may simply provide documentary information, or they may give voice to silent pictures, though the messages that they convey in the photographic image may contradict their original purpose.

This exhibition explores the myriad uses of signs in the work of a range of 20th- and 21st-century photographers, from Walker Evans to Lee Friedlander and Ed Ruscha. Works are drawn from the museum collection, loans from Paul Sack Photographic Trust, and loans from private collections."

From: Eric Shackle (eshackle ozemail.com.au)
Subject: "New" words

Hi Anu (AH-noo, uh-NOO)

For a new slant on an old subject, please see Tough Times in the Floating Brothel: OhmyNews.

Translation is the art of erasing oneself in order to speak in another's voice. -David Cole, professor, author, and correspondent (b. 1958)

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