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AWADmail Issue 352

Mar 29, 2009

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

From: John J. Yiannias (jjy3W virginia.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--diptych
Def: A work of art on two hinged panels, such as a painting or carving.

A diptych is not always a work of art. It can be a simple official listing of names, which is what it means in the ecclesiastical context e.g. "The Patriarch's name does not appear in the diptychs."

From: David M Ramirez II (dmichaelii gmail.com)
Subject: diptych

I'm sure most museum attendees have observed that very often this word describes something that is not hinged, rather is a work of art spread over two panels.

From: Frank Muller (franko2001 gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--snake eyes
Def: A throw of two ones with a pair of dice.

Today's word(s) remind(s) me of Leonard Cohen's lines:

I'm on the side that's always lost
Against the side of heaven.
I'm on the side of snake eyes tossed
Against the side of seven.

This quotation has been one of my favourites from Cohen's work. It is sheer brilliance. Balanced here are the traditional symbols of good and evil with the odds of throwing two 1s (1 in 36, the lowest) with the odds of throwing an "eye total" of 7 (1 in 6, the highest). Expressed in gambling language, the irony is further heightened.

From: Laurie Guzman (lguzman chasewoodbank.com)
Subject: Snake eyes

Snake eyes have never had a bad connotation for me or my family. Since I was very young we've loved to play monopoly and love rolling snake eyes because it means you get one bill of every denomination! That's a free $686 to buy more property! In my experience, families typically have their own fun rules for the game like ours for snake eyes.

From: Rusty Paul (pdrust gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--snake eyes

In the early 1980s, I was with a computer company whose commercial systems employed a colon as the prompt sign. One day a client in rural Mississippi called us for help with a technical problem which he described as he "cain't get them snake eyes on my terminal." It took us a few moments to realize what he was referring to, but afterward I often used the term myself.

From: GC Coppel (guy-christopher.coppel-1 nasa.gov)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--portmanteau
Def: 1. A word coined by blending two or more words. 2. A case opening in two parts, used for carrying clothes while traveling.

The word portmanteau is also still used in French as the equivalent of "hanger", although a "porte-manteau" in that case, would be a heavy-duty clothes hanger, wood in general, able to carry the weight of a heavy coat.

From: Pete Urb (photobypete enter.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--zwieback
Def: A crispy, sweetened bread made by slicing a loaf and baking it a second time.

When I studied German many years ago, the German word for the number two was spelled zwei and the German word for the expression twice was zweimal (two times). Where does the spelling zwie in today's installment come from?

Many readers wrote about this. The word zwei and the prefix zwie are variants that developed from the same root and they both appear in various German words. For a definitive opinion on the two spellings, I consulted Anatoly Liberman, a professor in the Department of German, Scandinavian and Dutch at the University of Minnesota, and author of Word Origins (Oxford). Here's what he said:
Yes, /zwi- /and /zwei-/ are related. The first form, which exists only as a prefix in Modern German, continues /zwi-/ with a short vowel, whereas /zwei /is a reflex of a form with a long vowel. In German, as in English, long /i/ became what we today have in /ice/ (English) /Eis/ (German) and /zwei/.
-Anu Garg

From: Chuck O'brien (chasobrien gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--zwieback

Dry, insipid, tasteless things. I might have thought differently if my mother had let me have a double latte to dip them in, as we do with biscotti ...

From: Vaishali Kamath (vaishalikamath hotmail.com)
Subject: Zwieback

The word brought back 'delicious' memories of our stay in Germany. The zwieback by Brandt, especially the mini ones with desiccated coconut were a staple for me. Not to forget that they also gave me a double chin. Double trouble resulting into another kind of double trouble. ;-)

From: Vickie Hook (vickieh ontera.net)
Subject: Zwieback

With a name like Hilda Schmidt, I suspect the woman in the usage example was actually baking the buns that my mother made. According to Wikipedia:
Russian Mennonite zwieback is a yeast bread roll formed from two pieces of dough that are pulled apart when eaten. Placing the two balls of dough one on top of the other so that the top one does not fall off during the baking process is part of the art and challenge that must be mastered by the baker. Traditionally, this type of zwieback are baked Saturday and eaten Sunday morning and for afternoon Faspa (a light lunch usually held in late afternoon).

From: Carolyn Makovi (carolyn.makovi fda.hhs.gov)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--dicephalous
Def: Having two heads.

I am so glad to see the Hensel twins and the Chamberlain/Pedace twins described as exactly that, rather than as one baby with two heads. There was a pair of dicephalous twins born in the last year or two also -- together with a singleton triplet -- and they were described as a two-headed baby, instead of as two babies sharing one body. The latter description gives them the dignity of being persons, instead of making them sound like a freak.

From: Dee Anne B. (d-bone umn.edu)
Subject: dicephalous twins

One day last year I was visiting a small Midwestern college and had to do a double-take (another fine "double trouble" word). Also eating in the dining room were dicephalous twins Abigail and Brittany Hensel, who were mentioned in Friday's AWAD. They were part of a group of students eating and chatting together and seemed to be pretty much taken for granted by everyone else in the room. Quite a medical success story.

From: Marc Meketon (marc.meketon oliverwyman.com)
Subject: Doubling

My favorite "doubling" word is Martingale -- the gambling strategy where you double your bet if you lose. If you have unlimited resources, on average you will break even. But since no one has truly unlimited resources, this strategy will lead to tragedy.

Who will consider that no dictionary of a living tongue ever can be perfect, since, while it is hastening to publication, some words are budding, and some falling away; that a whole life cannot be spent upon syntax and etymology, and that even a whole life would not be sufficient; that he, whose design includes whatever language can express, must often speak of what he does not understand. -Samuel Johnson, lexicographer (1709-1784)

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