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AWADmail Issue 406

April 11, 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

Next Big Thing in English: Knowing They Know That You Know
The New York Times

Words Easily Trigger Painful Memories

From: Carolanne Reynolds (gg wordsmith.org)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--desideratum
Defs: Something considered necessary or desirable.

Here's the poem Desiderata that everyone knew in the 60s. Most in the States would immediately think of it. It's appeared in many places -- signs, rocks, embroidered on pillows.

by Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.

From: Andrew Mace (herald948 aol.com)
Subject: AWAD: Desideratum

I'm sure you'll hear from many of us who fondly remember Les Crane's 1970s recording of Max Ehrmann's Desiderata -- as well as the National Lampoon parody "Deteriorata":

You are a fluke of the universe.
You have no right to be here.
And whether you can hear it or not,
The universe is laughing behind your back.

According to Wikipedia, Les Crane himself supposedly preferred the parody!

From: Mike Newdow (mikenewdow gmail.com)
Subject: Desideratum

In Federalist #10, James Madison wrote, "To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed. Let me add that it is the great desideratum by which this form of government can be rescued from the opprobrium under which it has so long labored, and be recommended to the esteem and adoption of mankind."

From: Michael Kohl (mmkohl gmail.com)
Subject: Desideratum

I know from my years of high school Latin that the word Desideratum comes from the past participle of the verb "desiderare" (to desire). We get words like Data ("things which are given") from the same grammatical process.

A related (and juicily named) construction, the passive periphrastic, gives us Agenda, Memorandum, and one of the most beautiful names in all of language, Amanda: literally, she who is "to be loved".

I reflect fondly on my Latin years and always try using my knowledge of the passive periphrastic to make young ladies named Amanda blush.

From: Kathy Sladek (sksladek hotmail.com)
Subject: limen
Def: A threshold of response: point at which a stimulus is of sufficient intensity to generate a response.

One of my favorite concepts is called "liminality" -- waiting on the threshold. The passage behind us has closed, yet the options before us have yet to be revealed -- limen. Moving from one identity to another, one place to another, but still in that "in-between" state. Most of us try to rush into something, anything, rather than waiting for the future to be revealed. It isn't a pleasant place to be, but that's when we grow most.

From: John Alzamora (catalun aol.com)
Subject: Limen

A motion in limine is a petition presented at the threshold of a trial (namely, before the jury is seated and the witnesses are called). It asks the judge to rule that certain testimony remain unuttered.

Email of the Week (Brought to you by "Gravity Always Wins." - Are you up for it?)

From: Peter Scandrett (peter.scandrett unitedgroupltd.com)
Subject: limen

Many years ago we had a prolific lime tree, so much so we gave a lot to our friends so they wouldn't fall to the ground and rot. One friend said that as they were not green and too yellow to be a lime, they were not limes. He called them limens.

From: Mike Babb (mbabb entercomp.com)
Subject: obdurate
Def: 1. Stubborn: not easily moved. 2. Hard-hearted: resistant to emotions.

As a child in the '50s my Mother had a boxed set of 45 RPM records of the "Mikado", by Gilbert & Sullivan. My favorite song of the whole lot was, "Titwillow". The third verse of which was:

Now I feel just as sure as I'm sure that my name
Isn't Willow, titwillow, titwillow,
That 'twas blighted affection that made him exclaim
"Oh, willow, titwillow, titwillow!"
And if you remain callous and obdurate, I
Shall perish as he did, and you will know why,
Though I probably shall not exclaim as I die,
"Oh, willow, titwillow, titwillow!"

Even as a child I found this song incredibly funny.

From: Karen Howell (bpwkhowell lycos.com)
Subject: Chicanery
Def: Deception by trickery or sophistry.

The auto racing world uses the term chicane to describe a section of road racing track with twisty curves.

From: Giedra Campbell (giedracampbell gmail.com)
Subject: quiescence
Def: A state of rest, inactivity, or quietness.

I learned this word in college. The dorm cafeteria served popsicles that boasted of being "quiescently frozen". I wondered what that was all about and looked it up. At first I found the expression redundant---how ELSE do you freeze things if not "quietly"? But then I realized that ice cream requires agitation/churning during freezing, so to describe something as quiescently frozen would be to say "unlike ice cream". And thus, as an ice cream fanatic, "quiescently frozen" has become something of a code phrase for me meaning "not very good".

From: Sameer Kamat (onnicles gmail.com)
Subject: Onamography

AWAD fans who enjoy language-based games might want to check out Onamography, an innovative new puzzle that made its debut in an Australian newspaper. It's a writing style that creatively incorporates proper nouns (company names, celebrities, etc.) in regular English sentences. Solving and creating these puzzles requires a combination of creativity, pattern recognition skills, wit, language skills, and general knowledge. Once you get the hang of it, it can be pretty addictive too.

Join the gang having fun with Onamography on Wordsmith Talk.

From: Charlie Cockey (czechpointcharlie gmail.com)
Subject: Major gaffe in the English Der Spiegel

From English-language edition of the German magazine Der Spiegel:

A functioning police force is seen as a prerequisite for a Western withdrawal from Afghanistan. German trainers, however, paint a disastrous picture of the quality of Afghan security forces. Too many police, they say, can't read or write, can't shoot straight or take bribes.

Good lord! Do we have to teach these guys how to do EVERYTHING? Can't read, can't write, can't shoot straight -- don't even know how to take BRIBES! You put your left hand out, and you shake it all about. I ask you, what's this world coming to?

First, there is nothing unique about English's "openness" to words from other languages. Second, there is no logical conception of "proper" grammar as distinct from "bad" grammar that people lapse into out of ignorance or laziness. -John McWhorter, linguist, author, and commentator (b. 1965)

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