Wordsmith.Org: The Magic of Words: The Magic of Words


About | Media | Search | Contact  


Today's Word

Yesterday's Word



AWADmail Issue 40

Jul 29, 2001

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

From: Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)
Subject: Moderated chat announcement

On August 1, 2001 at 8 PM Eastern (GMT -4), we've invited Barbara Wallraff, a senior editor at the Atlantic Monthly, for an online chat. She will hold her Word Court at wordsmith.org/chat/wallraff.html. We look forward to seeing you at the chat!

From: Mary Mulhern (mulhermmATdrexel.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--epizootic

Thanks so much for you illuminating comments on this word. Despite its obvious Greek derivation, of which you have made me aware, I grew up thinking that it was a kind of nonsense word, because of an old recording of a vaudeville song that we had at home when I was a kid. Now that I think of it, the song undoubtedly had to do with the epidemic you mention, but the five syllable pronunciation was unknown to the recording artists and, I rather think, likely as unknown to the general public. They gave it a hearty e-puh-ZOO-tic. The words that I can remember go something like this--

Father had a horse that had the epizootic
Way down in its thorax
So they filled it up with powdered borax
The horse he blew
And Pa he flew
And the blow almost killed Father.

From: John F. Beukema (jbeukemaATfaegre.com)
Subject: Re: epizootic

I had always assumed that "epizootic" was a humorous, coined word, since the only context in which I have ever heard it before today was an expression my father used to use. Sometimes, when he had an internal malady of unknown origin and vague symptoms, he would say that he was suffering from "epizootics in the parallelogram." I assume that this expression originated somewhere in his boyhood in the '20s and '30s.

I'm a bit disappointed, but at the same time fascinated, to learn that "epizootic" is a real word.

    Similar observations shared by many other linguaphiles. -Anu

From: Jennie Burden (jenniebATfound.ksu.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--estivate

Today's word struck a nerve - a deep, deep nerve - with me. Anyone wishing to see the ultimate example is invited to visit my home this summer and observe the teenage boy who estivates there. You will be amazed.

From: Joanna M. Esty (estygroganATjuno.com)
Subject: AWAD--Estivate

Estivate was of particular interest to my father and myself. Our last name is Esty and the motto on the family heraldic shield is "Of All The Seasons, I prefer Summer". What an interesting connection your insight brought to us on a personal note! Thank you!

From: Linda Walker (lrwalkerATprovide.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--anile

> anile (AN-yl, AY-nyl) adjective
> Of or like an old woman.
> [From Latin anilis, from anus old woman.]

Sorry, I'm sure you have had lots of objections to using "anile" today. Yes, it's an English word, yes it has known sources. Yes, it's in the dictionary.

BUT it's derogatory.

So, I have to ask, why did you decide to use such a disgustingly derogatory term for elderly women today? Is this the beginning of a trend for informing us of the derogatory terms for everybody in your readership?

Please, say it isn't so.

Please, apologize to those old ladies among your readership who were shocked to discover your willingness to let us wake up to such a distasteful term for ourselves.

    You didn't explain why you felt the word is derogatory. Perhaps you mistook things here with a part of human anatomy. If so, your indignation is understandable.

    The Latin word annus means year and it's the same word that is the root of such everyday words as annual, anniversary, annuity, ancient, and perennial. Its derivative Latin anus refers to old woman and it literally means many years old. We get anile from that via anilis. The male equivalent is senile (from Latin senex).

    There is another unrelated sense of the Latin word anus, indicating ring, link, circle, and in general, round things, such as the posteriors, but the word anile has nothing to do with it.

    Words by themselves are neither good nor bad. It's how we use them that gives them color. Still, you are entitled to your opinion. Thanks for taking the time to let me know how you feel. -Anu

From: William MacDonald (wmacdonaldATmilchev.com)
Subject: Trilemma

Thanks for providing your delightful mailing -- I look forward to it every workday. I apologize that my first email to y'all should contain a grumble, but regarding the quote employing "trilemma" -- isn't that a misuse of the word? As a parent of toddlers, I know that when choosing a child care provider you must balance availability, affordability, and quality, but rarely do you have to actually choose one out of the three of them. Plus, none of them are "undesirable options", though I suppose the undesirable option implied is the sacrifice of, say, affordability for the sake of availability and quality. Still, in most cases we're talking about a continuum of choices in which the three variables must be weighed, not three distinct unpleasant choices. Stacy Milbouer is in touch with the realities of child care, but not with the proper use of "trilemma".

Still, it's an uncommon word, and I imagine you didn't have many quotes to choose from. Ideally some pundit would have said in the past three weeks ago something like, "Gary Condit found himself faced with a trilemma: deny his affair with Chandra Levy, and risk distrust if the truth were discovered; admit the affair, and embrace the label 'adulterer'; or keep silent, and allow the public's imagination to run wild." Timely and pertinent!

From: Thom Hickey (hickeyAToclc.org)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--trilemma

Trilemmas are actually very common. It reminds me of the old printers' axiom: You can have it fast, cheap or accurate. Pick two.

From: Kai Holthaus (kai_holthausAThp.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--trilemma

Today's word reminds me of an "in-famous" mathematical problem, called "The Truel" (as opposed to duel). In that problem you're facing two other competitors, you and the other two having guns. Each of you is allowed to fire one shot at a time. Unfortunately, you're the worst shooter of the three, hitting the target only once in every three tries, the other two hit every second and every shot, respectively. The shooting takes place in order of ability to shoot, starting with the weakest. So, you have the first shot, what should you do to maximize your chances to stay alive? Should you aim for the guy who hits once every second shot or aim for the guy that hits every time?

To make a long story short, you do neither. Your best option is to fire your shot in the air, and let the two guys deal with themselves. Firing the shot in the air forces the next person to aim at the guy who always hits. If he hits, great, then you have the next shot; if he misses, than the "always-hitter" will aim at the "50%-guy" because that's his worst enemy. In either case, you're still alive after the first round and have only one person to deal with... You're chances still aren't that great, but they're better then trying to kill somebody during the first round (which means that it's highly likely that one of the guys will be alive to kill you after the first round is over...)

From: Martin Julian DeMello (mdemelloATruf.rice.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--trilemma

Another word along the same lines is 'truel', the three person analogue of a duel. It was coined to describe the well-known mathematical problem of three people, of differing levels of marksmanship, shooting at each other in an attempt to be the sole survivor. For an excellent article on the topic, see: www.maa.org/mathland/mathtrek_1_26_98.html

(Needless to say, it has not made it into the dictionaries - though OED lists 'truel' as an obsolete form of 'trowel'.)

From: Ken Harris (jkharrisATnccn.net)
Subject: dilemma and trilemma

When I studied philosophy at UCLA way back in dinosaur days, I learned that a lemma is a proposition that you can prove. So you derive the proof and when you want to use the assertion in a more complex argument, you simply insert the statement as a lemma rather than going through the individual steps again. Dilemmas were cases where two lemmas were introduced, each derivation valid, statements of elegance and beauty indeed. There was only one trouble; they were contradictory statements.

As an example, Epimenides the Cretan, a sophist of long time ago, taught a young Athenian the law. The Athenian agreed to pay Epimenides when he had won his first case at law. But then the Athenian went home and never practiced the law, and consequently, never paid Epimenides. Epimenides went to Athens and sued the Athenian for payment. The Athenian defended himself. Epimenides argued: If I win the case, then by the judgment of this court, the Athenian should pay me. But if he wins the case, then he will have won his first case at law and by the terms of our agreement he should pay me. The Athenian replied, if I win my case, then by the judgment of this court. I should not have to pay Epimenides. But if I lose the case, then I will have still not won my first case at law and by the terms of our agreement, I should not have to pay him.

Unfortunately, this case existed only in fragmentary form, and so we do not know how the matter was resolved. They are all dead now, so it doesn't matter.

From: Rich (rrauenzaATshroop.net)
Subject: Re: AWADmail Issue 39

I'm 30 and have had the exact same problem for many years -- and only just recently realized dilemma has two M's and no N. I'm considered an excellent speller, too.! I think it is a conspiracy!

    We've received dozens of messages from other linguaphiles confessing to spelling dilemma with an n. Does anyone have an insight on how this misspelling might have propagated? It could be a good topic for a doctorate research (or at least a term paper). -Anu

From: Andrea Aldridge (andrea.aldridgeATci.seattle.wa.us)
Subject: Re: AWADmail Issue 39

One note of interest for our friend Mike Babb regarding his comments on bar sinister in AWADmail Issue 39. The correct term in heraldry is actually bend sinister. A bend is a stripe that runs diagonally across a coat of arms and therefore has either a left or right slant, while a bar runs straight across and consequently can do neither. It's a point of humour for me that this cartoon (and television in general) had/has so much influence on the general public that "bar sinister" is thought of as correct by many, even though impossible.

From: The Rev. John W. Price (jpriceATsleh.com)
Subject: trilemma, dilemma

I'm a hospital chaplain. You know what a diagnostic is? Someone who doesn't believe in two gods.

(In preparation for ministry, I went to a punnery...)

From: Sam Prosser (samATeclectic.tm)
Subject: Learning new words

I love learning new words - the dictionary is a favourite read of mine (yes, I know I need to get a life), but I have a memory like a sieve so I need a strategy that makes me use them over and over again to remember. The solution I have discovered is to use them as passwords for my video library, ISP, emails etc. This also removes the need to think up new passwords on a regular basis as you get them delivered to your mailbox daily!

Words, like nature, half reveal and half conceal the soul within. -Alfred, Lord Tennyson, poet (1809-1892)

We need your help

Help us continue to spread the magic of words to readers everywhere


Subscriber Services
Awards | Stats | Links | Privacy Policy
Contribute | Advertise

© 1994-2023 Wordsmith