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AWADmail Issue 347

Feb 22, 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: How to support A.Word.A.Day

If you enjoy reading A.Word.A.Day, here are some ways you can support this work:

Thanks for reading and for your support!

From: Rock Currier (rockcurrier cs.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--fool's gold
Def: Something that appears valuable but is worthless.

Pyrite or fool's gold has caused many prospectors to foolishly think they have found gold. Sometimes pyrite specimens can be very beautiful. About three years ago one specimen not much larger than a hand sold at auction for more than $40,000, probably not far from its weight in gold. Here are many pictures of pyrite crystals from all over the world.

From: Michael Sharp (mja29way aol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--fool's gold

The fool may be the one who skips the fool's gold. Real gold is sometimes found mixed in with or existing in the same area as fool's gold.

From: Buz Wehrman (buzwehrman yahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--fool's gold

I have always found one of most intriguing uses of iron pyrite as a metaphor is in Dante's Inferno, where Malebolge (Canto XVIII) is constructed of the "petra di color ferringno" (stone of the color of iron). Malebolge is the 8th circle of Hell composed of ten minor trenches or "bolgias" where different forms of fraud are punished. Iron pyrite which gives the fraudulent appearance of gold becomes an apt metaphor for those who would appear as good but turn out to be evil.

From: Lucie Singh (lmsingh aol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--fool's gold

... from potis (having the power)

I was taken by a fit of interior wordplay upon reading this. The Secret Service refer to the man in the White House as POTUS (president of the United States). Talk about having the power.

From: Rudy Rosenberg (rrosenbergsr accuratechemical.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--sword of Damocles
Def: An ever-present threat; an impending disaster.

In the vernacular of Brussels, Belgium, it is most often referred to as: The sword of Madame Ocles. Although most people know the correct spelling, it is more fun to use the popular version.

From: Susan Bauman (mrbigsmum yahoo.com)
Subject: sword of Damocles

I was really hoping that the quotation about 'Sword of Damocles' would come from a classic Three Stooges episode, demonstrating the 'nurture vs nature' argument. Moe, Larry, and Curly are used as test subjects between two scholars and the ultimate test is whether 'the boys' can mingle with the upper crust at an upscale soiree.

Apparently, they can't; they're grabbing food with their hands, hitting each other and even stealing the cutlery. A huge pie ends up embedded precariously on the ceiling and standing beneath it are a society matron and Moe. Moe's keeping an eye on the pie while trying to get the matron to quickly wind up her gushing conversation. Noticing Moe's impatience, she exclaims "Why, young man, you act as if the Sword of Damocles were dangling above your head!" To which Moe replies, "Lady, you must be psychic!" Moe rushes off, leaving the lady to look upwards and muttering "I wonder what got into that young man?"

Of course, the pie drops right then onto her head, starting a hilarious pie fight among society's upper crust. Moe, Larry, and Curly participate, then decide they're above it all and leave the party, marvelling at the quirks of 'high society'. Great example of 'Sword of Damocles'!

From: Steve Kirkpatrick, DDS (stevekirkp comcast.net)
Subject: sword of Damocles

My college roommate had a sword of Damocles: the bike he stored over his bed, suspended by a wall hook. I hadn't heard the term until he proclaimed it and explained it. Adding to the danger, this was only five miles from the San Andreas Fault.

From: Carolyn Mattes (aldrianpl gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--mug's game
Def: A foolish or futile activity.

So if mug means fool what did J.K. Rowling who proved herself an obsessive word/name chooser, mean by calling the rest of us muggles? Hmmmm? What do you think? Interesting glimpse at the character/attitude of Wizardkind.

From: Dr. Joe Pastorek (doctorjoe aol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--dog's age
Def: A long time.

I was interested in "dog's age" (and "donkey's age") that you posted this week. Down here (in Louisiana) we always say coon's age Apparently that's a similar term.

Raccoons are very common down here in the South, and they live longer than, say, possums. So I guess it makes sense either way.

From: Dan Gillcrist (dangill cybermesa.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--God's acre
Def: A cemetery, especially one next to a church.

The famous sculptor Glenna Goodacre (designed the Vietnam Women's Memorial in Washington, DC) lives here in Santa Fe. Sounds very much like today's word.

From: Bob Hartsell (u4eah sbcglobal.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--God's acre

This usage of "God's acre" may not be widely known and it may be archaic now: In some sections of the South, small farmers sometimes would "dedicate" one acre of their land and contribute the proceeds from the crop(s) grown on that acre to their church.

Why they didn't just donate the proceeds from a one-acre fraction of their holdings, I have no idea. My family were dairy farmers, not land farmers, and we lived in the mountains where there was little land farming.

Although I never knew anyone who practiced this custom, I heard about it during my youth and early adulthood.

From: Andrew Pressburger (andpress sympatico.ca)
Subject: God's acre

God's Little Acre is the title of Erskine Caldwell's controversial 1933 novel about the uprising of mill workers in the American South. On the surface the title refers to the protagonist Ty Ty Warden's pledge to give God a share of the gold he is searching for on his farm. On another level though it was Caldwell's way of expressing his view that the capitalist system was the cemetery of the exploited masses.

The obscenity charges levelled against Caldwell may have been politically motivated, as happened in the case of Flaubert's Madame Bovary, several of Zola's and Anatole France's novels, and in countless other cases where the establishment has prided itself on being guardians of public morality while in actual fact what it was protecting was its special interest. See bookrags.com.

From: Nancy Brandon (nancy.brandon gmail.com)
Subject: God's acre

I went to Easter Sunrise Service at the Moravians' God's Acre in Winston-Salem, North Carolina one year. The service began in the church, well before the sun was up. Then as the sun began to rise, the brass band started playing and we all walked from the church several blocks to God's Acre, where the service concluded at sunrise, in one of the most beautiful places in the city. Thanks for a word that brings back good memories!

From: Suzanne Royce (jakzroyce sbcglobal.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--fool's gold

You've reminded me of a journalism professor who rebuked me for writing: The school's doors were chained shut. With little mercy, and in class, he instructed me that inanimate objects have no power of possession. I fight that tendency still today, 30 years later.

From: Hillary Rettig (lifelongactivist yahoo.com)
Subject: On possessing

From my book The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way (Lantern Books, 2006): "The English language itself reflects how challenging it can be to take on a new viewpoint: we merely "purchase" or "own" a new item, after all, but "adopt", "hold", "embrace", or even "espouse" a new viewpoint -- and eventually we become "wedded" to our long-held ideas. And although people can bond very closely with their material possessions, and even grow to identify with them, it's generally not as strong an identification as occurs with a political or social viewpoint. Even the most impassioned car owner, for example, doesn't go around saying, "I'm a Mercedes", the way many people say, "I'm a Democrat", "I'm a Unitarian", or, "I'm an environmentalist."

From: Jim Halverson (jhalv aol.com)
Subject: dog's age

Your use of the possessive "dog's" reminded me of an example I used in my workbook Spelling Works to illustrate the difficulty of spelling possessives in English. If this sentence is written with no apostrophes or commas, as if it were being imparted orally rather than in writing, then it becomes impossibly ambiguous: "We lost the dogs leashes and bones." Hmm, just what was lost? Dogs, leashes, and bones? One dog's leashes and bones? Two or more dogs' leashes and bones?

English unfortunately evolved with the same affix, -s, used for possessives (from Old English and Old Norse) and most plurals (mainly from the French influence). To differentiate between the two, the apostrophe was then added. But the correct placement of that little mark is not easy, especially for children, because we have to stop and ask ourselves, "Is that noun a plural, a singular possessive, or a plural possessive?" And then we have to remind ourselves that the apostrophe indicates possession only for nouns, not for possessive pronouns like hers. How often have students written -- have I written! -- something like "The dog lost it's bones"

You've never had that problem? Quick, correct any mistakes in this sentence in two seconds: Billy said, "Its so funny when the dogs tails wagging."

From: Tom Crepeau (tomcrepeau3 aol.com)
Subject: my ocean, his stars, their sun

I write science fiction and fantasy. I do say my ocean, his stars, their sun. While we don't technically own it, if someone else came along and moved our sun, we'd certainly complain about our prior claims to ownership.

From: Eric Shackle (eshackle ozemail.com.au)
Subject: Dog's age

The world's oldest dog died at the age of 203 (in canine years), the London Daily Mail reported last September. Owner David Richardson had no official documentation to prove Bella's age, but he insisted she was 29. In human terms, Margaret Caldwell, of Mesquite, Nevada, who was a pin-up girl during World War II, is now, at 102, the world's oldest newspaper columnist. She has certainly lived a dog's age, if you disregard Bella. You can read about Margaret's amazing career at OhmyNews.

Language is the amber in which a thousand precious and subtle thoughts have been safely embedded and preserved. -Richard C. Trench, poet (1807-1886)

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