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AWADmail Issue 395

January 24, 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

Language Structure Is Partly Determined by Social Structure

Reading Forwards and Backward

This week's Email of the Week is from Jan Moppert (see below) (Courtesy Johnny Mustard - "Put some mustard on it.")

From: Allen Foster (allen foster-brague.net)
Subject: asperity
Def: Harshness or roughness.

I learned this word as a child, listening to HMS Pinafore. Having heard the captain say "dammy" in a heated moment, Sir Joseph Porter has him removed from the deck with these words:

Go, ribald, get you hence
To your cabin with celerity.
This is the consequence
Of ill-advised asperity!

From: Iain Calder (icalder groupivsemi.com)
Subject: asperity

In science, particularly materials science, "asperity" is not only used as a general term for roughness. It is also commonly employed when referring specifically to projections from the surface: these are known as asperities. An asperity is usually microscopic and has some connotation of being rather pointed, but not necessarily.

From: Granville Pool (teacupfarm comcast.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--obscurantism
Def: 1. Opposition to the spread of knowledge. 2. Being deliberately vague or obscure; also a style in art and literature.

This word reminds me of Charles Dickens's Circumlocution Office in Little Dorrit.

From: Chris Knipp (ccknippart gmail.com)
Subject: Re: sedulous
Def: Involving great care, effort, and persistence.

The phrase "sedulous ape" should have been mentioned. It was used by Robert Louis Stevenson, among many, in his essay The Sedulous Ape and by many others, and is a famous phrase:

Whenever I read a book or a passage that particularly pleased me, in which a thing was said or an effect rendered with propriety, in which there was either some conspicuous force or some happy distinction in the style, I must sit down at once and set myself to ape that quality. I was unsuccessful, and I knew it; and tried again, and was again unsuccessful and always unsuccessful; but at least in these vain bouts, I got some practice in rhythm, in harmony, in construction and the co-ordination of parts. I have thus played the sedulous ape to Hazlitt, to Lamb, to Wordsworth, to Sir Thomas Browne, to Defoe, to Hawthorne, to Montaigne, to Baudelaire, and to Obermann.

From: Sherry Lawson (slteach11 yahoo.com)
Subject: sedulous

Your A.Word.A.Day for 1-20-10 has a misspelled word in the USAGE section for the word SEDULOUS. The word 'pernickety' does not exist, but the word persnickety does. Someone wasn't being 'sedulous' with the proofreading on that quote by Elizabeth Bishop.

'Pernickety' is a variant of the more common spelling 'persnickety'.
-Anu Garg

From: Kitt Healy (gracekhealy gmail.com)
Subject: Surcease
Def: Stoppage, especially a temporary one.

Almost perfect timing with the word "surcease!" It appears conspicuously in Edgar Allan Poe's famous poem "The Raven":

Eagerly I wished the morrow; -- vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow -- sorrow for the lost Lenore --

Edgar Allen Poe's 201st birthday was Jan 19! An involuntary shout out! Well done!

From: Stephen du Toit (stephen magicfactory.org.uk)
Subject: Gargling?

"This week's words in AWAD were chosen by following precisely that route. You could call it Brownian Motion, Browsing the Web, or Looking Words Up In a Dictionary".

I vote for Gargian Motion, or perhaps we could just call it Gargling.

Email of the Week
(Courtesy Johnny Mustard - "Put some mustard on it.")

From: Jan Moppert (jan.moppert gmail.com)
Subject: This week's words

You beckon one of my warmest dating memories from 25 years ago. I had a fierce crush on a rising young writing talent and stopped in to visit him on my way home for the holidays. We were in his apartment with nothing to do and the conversation turned to words. We picked up the dictionary to investigate his favorite word "gossamer". Three hours later we were still following words, as if we'd found a diamond mine. Most friends cannot understand why this was so much fun, but I'll cherish that memory forever.

From: Nancy Hurley (abhurley memphis.edu)
Subject: Looking Up Words in a Dictionary

This reminds me of our grandmother, who introduced us to a rainy-day game she called "q.v.'ing" (from the Latin abbreviation for "which see"). We used either the dictionary or encyclopedia--and looking up the cross-references kept us occupied for hours!

From: Mike Wagner (wagstr6 bellsouth.net)
Subject: a comment on this week's theme

Sydney Harris, the late Chicago newspaper columnist, used to periodically write a column under the heading, "Things I learned while looking up other things".

From: Laurance Lancaster (llancaster olypen.com)
Subject: Word lookup'g

Your comment about getting sidetracked while looking up a specific word(s) reminded me of an event that happened in 7th grade.

I had a tendency to finish class assignments well ahead of the pack. As a result I tended to become a distraction to the others. Well, Mr. Hare, getting frustrated by now, told me that if I couldn't sit still and be quiet to go read the dictionary. He assumed I'd demur and keep still. Well, we had those humongous dictionaries with their own pedestals. I just knew that every "dirty" word in the world could be found within those pages.

To this day I still peruse my circa '75 Webster/Time paperback version. I love words and always prefer painting pictures when explaining, relating, or just 'conversating'.

From: Catherine Vidinha (cvidinha smma.com)
Subject: The week's theme

I was delighted to read your theme for the week -- in our hyptertexted, search-engine-powered, metadata world, the only things easier to find than the answer we set out looking for, are distractions along the way! I've also heard this referred to as "wikiwalking" in reference to the interlinked articles on Wikipedia, wherein, as the comedian Eddie Izzard would surely attest, you can start out looking up Renaissance modes of transport, and end up learning about Linux.

From: Stephanie Watts (trumpetrocks hotmail.com)
Subject: Response to Prillaman on canonical (Re: AWADmail 394)

Also being a music geek, I want to jump into the mix and point out that while Pachelbel's Canon in D bass line repetition does qualify as a passacaglia, Pachelbel (or the person who later discovered and named this piece) didn't completely screw up in labeling it a canon.

There are just about as many ways to have a canon as a composer can be creative. Row, row, row your boat is an example of a canon at the unison -- the second voice enters the piece on the same note that the first voice began (i.e. the first Row is always the same note). A canon can have the second voice enter at any interval the composer desires, although some intervals are more likely to sound conventionally "good" than others. Other games composers play include having the second voice state the theme backwards, upsidedown, twice (or some other proportion) as fast, half (or some other proportion) as fast, upside down and backward and twice as fast and at the 5th all at once... Of course the more complicated the composer makes the game, the more difficult the task to make the piece sound "good" and obey the musical rules.

Back to Pachelbel, this canon actually starts at the unison. Although it may sound as though the initial melody is just repeated and harmonized, it is the first voice continuing along on the lower notes (the harmonizing) that is continuing the first statement of the canon, with the second voice bringing in the original melody and the second statement of the canon.

So part of the genius of Pachelbel is that he fitted his canon over a ground bass, and it all sounds beautiful. It works just like Row, row, row your boat, (Pachelbel does even get to a three-part canon) but you need one more friend to sing bass!

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. -George Orwell, writer (1903-1950)

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