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AWADmail Issue 393

January 10, 2010

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

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

The Decade's Top 10 Quotations

Listening to Braille
The New York Times

There Oughta Be a Law

From: Michael Sivertz (sivertz bnl.gov)
Subject: cothurnal
Def: Of or related to tragedy or tragic acting.

It is mind-boggling that the twenty-first century language should contain a word that derives its meaning from a boot worn by tragic actors of Athens twenty-four centuries ago. I am bewildered enough by terms like "dial the phone" when dials disappeared less than a generation ago. How is it that language can act like an archive of human history, storing meaning for centuries, long after any living memory of the original object has disappeared?

From: Clara Garcia Amaral Fernandes (ahqueluz hotmail.com)
Subject: About cothurnal

The Portuguese dictionary Aurélio confirms the etymology of the word "cothurnal". We have, here, in Brazil, the colloquial expressions "low cothurn" (baixo coturno) and "high cothurn" (alto coturno) indicating the social position of someone. We also use "cothurn" (coturno) to mean military shoes. But there is no use of the word as an adjective.

From: Bob Singleton (rmsing45 earthlink.net)
Subject: cothurnal

Being a secondary theatre teacher, I had long known about kothornoi as the high boots that tragic actors wore to give themselves more height on stage. When I took private Greek lessons from a native Greek speaker who was also an ancient Greek history professor, I asked him what he knew about kothornoi. After a moment he said they were oversized boots that would fit the left or right foot interchangeably kept by Spartan soldiers beside their beds so that they could slip them on quickly in case the battle alarm was sounded in the middle of a dark night. I was left with greater admiration for the creativity of theatre people to find inventive uses for quotidian things.

Email of the Week (Courtesy Uppityshirts)

From: BranShea (via Wordsmith Talk)
Subject: cothurnal

I did a bit of looking into the history of this word and found that the shoes worn by tragedians fitted both the left and right foot. There was a Theramenes (455-404 BCE), who was nicknamed kóthornos, because his politics were lacking principles (wanting to save both cabbage and goat).

From: kah454 (via Wordsmith Talk)
Subject: cothurnal

There was a very impressive production of Agamemnon at Stratford years ago (late 70s) where the cothurni were close to a six-inch lift and the mask with a headpiece or ankus extended height close to a foot. There were arm extensions as well. This gave the actors the appearance of being like statues close to eight feet in height; certainly larger than life. Those ancient theatres were quite large and this helped those seated in the last rows.

From: Jeff Cebulski (bullski hotmail.com)
Subject: Gauntlet
Def: 1. A long thick glove worn as part of medieval armor. 2. An attack from all sides; a severe trial or ordeal.

Every time this word comes up, I am reminded of a "gauntlet" drill we ran during my high school football days. Those of us who were 'backs' or receivers had to carry the ball through a line of teammates, whose sole intention was to poke at the ball or beat the daylights out of the runner's arms in order to cause a fumble. It was often quite a challenge, but it could also be a lot of fun, especially at the end when fellow players held you up with all sorts of shenanigans. I sometimes wonder if such drills would help certain NFL players carry the ball in a more protective way.

From: Margie Duncan (mmduncan princeton.edu)
Subject: Gauntlets

When my best friend got married in 1981, she wore gauntlets as part of her wedding ensemble. That's what the bridal industry at the time called those lacy, fingerless gloves with sleeves up to the elbow. Very elegant, and quite different from the knight's version, but also a form of armor, I guess.

From: Cécile Hessels (v.hessels versatel.nl)
Subject: gauntlet

We Dutch call a gant/glove "hand shoe" (handschoen).

From: Elizabeth McAllister (fiberbuff earthlink.net)
Subject: RE: A.Word.A.Day--gauntlet

This word has always been one of my pet peeves. I have always understood that "gauntlet" was the glove, and "gantlet" was the military (or other) punishment. Am I wrong? Thanks.

A number of readers raised this question. Gantlet is simply a variant spelling (in American English) of the word gauntlet when used in the sense "to run the gauntlet".
-Anu Garg

From: Raphael Barousse (raphbar catholic.org)
Subject: buskin
Def: 1. A thick-soled laced boot. 2. A tragic drama.

Prior to the Liturgical Reform of the 1960s, buskins were loose boots of cloth or soft leather worn by prelates (bishops, cardinals, abbots, etc.) over their shoes and lower legs when vested for "pontifical" (especially solemn) Masses or other services. Their color was of the liturgical color of the day. In my monastery their use was generally an object of snickers.

From: Dean Barmard (dsbarnard comcast.net)
Subject: quantum (Re: AWADmail 392)

And think of the thousands (millions?) of people who make quantum leaps on a daily basis because they work/reside in a building that makes them move from the 12th to the 14th floor, or vice versa, because the 13th floor is not numbered! ;-)

From: Arif M. Ozdogan (arif.ozdogan izmir.af.mil)
Subject: palindromic number

The second palindromic date of the century is coming. The first one was 10/02/2001 (DD/MM/YYYY), and the second one that will be 01/02/2010.

From: Tania Kumar (taniakumar hotmail.com)
Subject: AWAD

Just a thought, the acronym for A Word A Day, "AWAD" is actually a name in Arabic which means "Reward, compensation" which is very true in a way because when I wake up in the morning and check my email, it's rewarding to come across these nice words and thoughts. Thank you for AWAD!

From: Nikkole Buczek (nbuczek hotmail.com)
Subject: You helped my New Year's Resolution

I wanted to do something new this year when it came to my New Year's Resolutions. One of them included learn a new word [almost] every day. I felt that this would help with my writing skills and continue to give me a tiny bit of education every day. I love the fact that Wordsmith emails you a word everyday. Sometimes I forget to check these things, but I have no excuse when I see the word in my inbox when I check my email every morning. It's such a simple thing, but if everyone would do it, we'd have a lot fewer dumb individuals.

It is with words as with sunbeams, the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn. -Robert Southey (1774-1843)

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