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AWADmail Issue 351

Mar 22, 2009

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

From: Ben Stern (stern.ben gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--quodlibet
Def: 1. A subtle argument, especially on a theological or philosophical issue. 2. A musical medley: a whimsical combination of popular tunes.

One of the greatest quodlibets was written by Peter Schickele in the 1970s as part of his P.D.Q. Bach programs. Here is a link to Napster where it can be heard.

From: Rolf Klausen (abstractstar gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--quodlibet

According to The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics (scroll down to "Quodlibet") in medieval times it was a most serious form of discussion:

"In medieval times, there would be certain days when professors of theology would open up the class, and answers questions on any theological topic. In fact, people not even enrolled in the school could come in off the street and pose a question. The professor would be required to answer any and all questions. The quodlibet was, thus, the opportunity for posing important, sometimes difficult questions to the masters of theology. Some theologians shunned quodlibets, while others loved them. St. Thomas Aquinas was among this latter group."

From: Prof. Thomas Sherman (sherman-2701 vtxnet.ch)
Subject: quodlibet & irony

"What a difference a (single) letter makes."

Whereas the English 'quodlibet' may be subtle and/or whimsical, the French 'quolibet' is everything but.

Although the original Latin etymology is common, the French turn of phrase generally means mocking or even injurious banter. In certain contexts, it can verge on the spiteful or malevolent.

In the country of Asterix and Obelix, I strongly doubt that malevolent banter or mockery ("raillerie malveillante") would be construed as a musical medley to the ears or a formal philosophical argument -- even to the irremediably Cartesian French.

Being "scoffed at" in France is no laughing matter: the addition or omission of a single letter can be the subtle difference between receiving a smile or "une claque" on the Champs Elysees.

The margin for error is thin indeed.

From: Anna Santos De Dios (alsdd_2 hotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--epistolary
Def: 1. Of or relating to letters. 2. Composed of letters (as a literary work).

One of my favorite novels is a relatively recent confection called Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. The book is not only epistolary, but progressively lipogrammatic as well!

From: Norma Williams (nmwms1 comcast.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gramineous
Def: Of or relating to grass.

Being a Grandma of thirteen, I was sure this word was going to extoll the virtues of Grandmas... oh well.

From: Mike Oakes (mondaycrusade1013 yahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gramineous

I will add gramineous to my list of words containing all the vowels, along with 'facetious' (in alphabetical order!), and 'sequoia'.

From: Ginger Chamberlain (gbc501800 yahoo.com)
Subject: AWAD

This is only the second time I've sent something to you -- the first was a month or so after September 11, 2001. You published it (they were Latin phrases that were somewhat comical -- such as minutas cantorum, minutas balorum, minutas carboratum desendus pantorum [a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants]). From that I got an email from a man in New York City who told me it was the first time he'd laughed since the attack. We corresponded for several months and then I stopped hearing from him. I heard from his wife through email that he had died, but that AWAD and my correspondence with him gave him great pleasure his last few months on earth. I still miss him and have kept his email address in my contact list.

Anyway, I love your site and always welcome your email every morning.

Language is the archives of history. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher (1803-1882)

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