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AWADmail Issue 356

Apr 26, 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

Humanity's Earliest Written Works Go Online
The Seattle Times

Chinese Craze for English Tattoos
The Daily Telegraph

Susan Boyle's 20 Media Euphemisms
Mother Jones

Tribes Hope to Save Disappearing Dialects
The Seattle Times

From: Randy Schutt (rds vernalproject.org)
Subject: Twain was an amateur (Re: perendinate)
Def: To put off until the day after tomorrow.

Your quotation from Twain reminded me of this variation: "Why put off today what you can wait until tomorrow to put off." And now I know you can perendinate before putting the task off: Why perendinate today when you can wait a couple days to perendinate.

From: Donald Johnson (johnsondo cintas.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--moirologist
Def: A hired mourner.

Probably the most famous literary moirologist is poor, humble Oliver Twist. Dickens sets him to work for Mr. Sowerberry due to the "expression of melancholy in his face". Oliver toils as a mute, which in Dickens's time was a person who would attend funerals and wakes saying nothing, but looking sad and acting as a symbolic protector of the deceased. Of course Oliver's time as a moirologist was just a short stopover in his many sorrowful adventures.

From: Jeannie Terepka (hbtjbt aol.com)
Subject: moirologist

My Dutch grandfather, who came to the United States just after the turn of the last century, learned enough English to secure admission to Harvard University after only three years in this country. He had virtually no money and supported himself as a student in Cambridge, Massachusetts by doing "odd jobs".

His most steady source of income during the three years of his Harvard studies came from his work as what he called "a professional mourner". He worked at both Christian and Jewish funerals; he learned a wide variety of wailing and weeping styles. Some funerals were huge, expensive and elaborate. Some were very simple and small.

He used to say that the funerals for which he was hired to mourn when no one else was actually mourning were the saddest funerals. He also sometimes doubled his responsibilities by being hearse chauffeur or horse-walker for horse-drawn hearses. Overall, he sometimes said, he learned more about what it meant to "be American" from being a professional mourner than from being a Harvard undergraduate.

From: Bob Markell (vocalistbob yahoo.com)
Subject: Paid mourners

There are still paid mourners in Orthodox Judaism. When a relative dies, strict Jewish law requires mourners to go to temple every day for a year to recite the Mourner's Kaddish (prayer). If this isn't possible or convenient, they can hire a professional mourner (usually an elderly man) to go to temple every day to say Kaddish for them.

I am a Conservative Jew and when my father passed away several years ago, an Orthodox customer of his called and offered to pay to have a mourner recite Kaddish for him.

From: Subha Deivanayagam (arasi14 hotmail.com)
Subject: moirologist

Our 85-year-old mother passed away this January. We had invited a person to perform prayers in her memory. While asking my four brothers and me to keep placing flowers at the foot of her photograph, he kept singing wonderful eulogies. Needless to say, we were all choked up. For a person who was not related to the family in any way, he proved to be an expert moirologist.

From: Yan Zen (yzen clarity.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--moirologist

Yes, there is a professional mourner with loud crying to match any soprano in the Hakka tradition, more common in Hong Kong.

From: Anila Simha (asimha sify.com)
Subject: moirologist

Hiring of moirologists for funerals is also prevalent in Rajasthan, India, where they are known as Rudalis. Their fees are most always linked to the wailing decibels they produce and to the vigor of beating their chests and other acts of visible grief that they can demonstrate.

From: Michael Padwee (mpadwee nyc.rr.com)
Subject: moirologist

A few years ago my wife and I attended a funeral in Brooklyn, NY. As we were leaving, we heard an incredible ululation from the next room. Looking in we saw a group of women dressed in black, sitting near a coffin, emitting this sound. We don't know if they were moirologists or relatives of the deceased, but the sight and sound were unforgettable.

From: Lorna S. Pryor (lmaethen aol.com)
Subject: hired mourners

My mom, born in 1905, attended a funeral in Madison County, Arkansas, with her father, when she was quite young.

As the dreary ceremony got well underway, my mom noticed three women, dressed completely in black, and sitting on the front pew. They were almost triplets in their appearance and demeanor. At some dramatic moment in the proceedings, they all fainted, simultaneously, falling neatly in the same direction.

My mom, not having any forewarning of this action, was scared and horrified. My grandfather apologized for not telling her of this quite usual addition to a funeral service. He explained that the women did not actually faint, but were probably demonstrating the "cold robbies", or the "fan-tods", in their performance of what appeared to be fainting spells.

I still laugh when I remember my mom's account of this mourning gesture.

From: Mark Zigoris (zigreek aol.com)
Subject: moirolgist

A lament sung at funerals in Greece is called moiroloi. These are dirge-like, improvised songs which relate to the life of the departed. There are always some individuals in the village who are gifted at this although they can be sung by anyone so inclined.

Certain instrumental improvisations are called moiroloi, these are usually played on the clarinet, sometimes the violin. Although played or sung all over Greece, the region of Epirus is best known for this musical form.

From: John Andrews (electronblueprelude yahoo.ca)
Subject: Professional mourners

Your word caught my attention, today, as I'm a funeral director. Or as I like to introduce myself, an "underground commodities dealer".

There is another use for professional mourners that you may not be aware of. It's not just to grieve on someone's behalf, or to "pad the attendance numbers". In the West, we tend to repress our grief. By having a few people who would weep openly, it lets people know that such behaviour is acceptable. If someone else is doing it, people who are trying to hold their tears back don't feel so bad about letting them flow.

Besides, repressing your grief is not healthy.

From: Sheila Michaels (shemichaels earthlink.net)
Subject: moirologist

As you say, farther back, beyond Greece. I'm sure it's also farther back than Egypt, but I know you'll remember this group.

From: Mike Pope (mpope microsoft.com)
Subject: moirologist

A (perhaps distant?) relative might be cheerleaders -- people whose job it is to express emotion.

From: Michael Weinert (weinert_m bls.gov)
Subject: moirologists, claques, and plants

About moirologists and their cousin, the claque: These days, this kind of "contributor" is usually termed a "plant", so called because they are "planted" in the venue to provide the agreed-upon support. Recently, I was seated next to a "plant" at the taping of a late-night talk show in Los Angeles: she nearly broke my ear drum with her screaming! If the strict definition of a claque is one hired to applaud, that would have been immensely preferred over what I was forced to endure!

From: Alice Daniels (danielsa upstate.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--moirologist

Today's bonus word - claque - brought back a fond memory for me. Many years ago I worked for AT&T and we had yearly meetings to introduce new long-distance products. I got together with a few other friends and we put on a show for fun at the kick-off. One year we did our own imitation of "Dream Girls" with costumes and a dance routine and we had our own claque (though we didn't know that word for it) in the audience all set to rush the stage and applaud wildly for us. It was great fun! And it worked like a charm, each time there was a company meeting, we were asked to perform.

From: Benny Alba (artspotib aol.com)
Subject: prepackaged funeral speeches

I'm not so enthusiastic about those worded cards in the stores. Nothing replaces a short note or longer, heartfelt letter to convey sincerity. No 50-cent words needed... though that expansion could come from enjoying your newsletter, Anu!

As for eulogies, the ultimate insult would be to have a generic prepackaged speech. And here I thought that the churchman flogging religion during my father's funeral was bad enough. This tops even that!

From: Herb Stein (hstein hvc.rr.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--prosopagnosia
Def: Inability to recognize familiar faces.

A sergeant I knew had this problem solved. If you had shiny things on your shoulders you were, "Sir!" If not, you were, "Harry".

From: BranShea (via Wordsmith Talk bulletin board)
Subject: prosopagnosia

Then there is the opposite of prosopagnosia: not the incapacity of recognizing familiar faces, but of recognizing familiar faces that on second glance aren't. Which made me believe that, unique as we may be, many of us have a number of duplicates walking this earth.

Examples are to be touched on the shoulder by someone who says: "Hi, Annie", and then: "Oh sorry", or the other way around: greeting a passerby enthusiastically who raises astonished eyebrows. There is no expression or word for this phenomenon as far as I know.

From: Dave Learned (learnedd med.umich.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--borborygmus
Def: A rumbling noise caused by the movement of gas through the intestines.

Borborygmus is better than just harmless. Surgeons listen with a stethoscope on the abdomen for these bowel sounds after intra-abdominal surgery to determine if the patient's bowels are again functioning after surgery. Absence of these bowel sounds in other circumstances can be a significant sign of several problems.

From: Steve Phelan (stephen..d.phelan gmail.com)
Subject: Borborygmi

There's a limerick sometimes attributed to President Woodrow Wilson:

I sat next to the Duchess at tea;
It was just as I feared it would be:
Her rumblings abdominal
Were truly phenomenal,
And everyone thought it was me!

From: Johnnie Godwin (johnniegodwin aol.com)
Subject: Lost for words? Be haptic.

At age 72 I've often found people awkwardly making grief situations worse when they are at a loss for words but say some anyway. A word that speaks silently but is remembered is to be haptic toward others in griefs and gladnesses. I try to practice that.

From: Eric Shackle (eshackle ozemail.com.au)
Subject: This week's theme

Two of this week's words apply to Oscar Brittle, the pedantic codger who has written hundreds of grouchy letters to the editors of Sydney's daily newspapers. He is xanthodontous from constant pipe-smoking, and doubtless has borborygmus when he reads the often angry comments his letters provoke. For further details, see Australia's Funniest Ghost Writer.

The trouble with words is that you never know whose mouths they've been in. -Dennis Potter, dramatist (1935-1994)

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