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AWADmail Issue 407

April 18, 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

Texting slang invading academic work
The Seattle Times

'Word clouds' offer insight into buzz phrases of political parties
The Independent

From: Tom Priestly (tpriestl shaw.ca)
Subject: shanghai
Def: To recruit someone forcibly or by fraud into doing something.

The practice of forcible recruitment for service on ships had been around for nearly 200 years before the word shanghai was pressed (!) into service: "impressment" was in use in the 16th century -- Shakespeare uses 'impress' in this sense. The Royal Navy made it official policy in 1664, and the great preacher John Wesley recounts that in 1739 "In the middle of the sermon, the press-gang came, and seized on one of the hearers." The word impress was common in the US in the 19th century, and was used by Washington Irving. To shanghai was, maybe, a toponymic innovation introduced to make the practice sound un-American and therefore nastier.

From: Marv Brown (seamarv hotmail.com)
Subject: shanghai

Didn't the practice and labeling of conscription to private vessels begin in Great Britain? It seems to me there are a lot of old sea songs about Liverpool and other British ports that use the word shanghai.

From: Penny Steiner (phsteiner sbcglobal.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--shanghai

Speaking of old SF and her seamier side ... this term related to SF Barbary Coast and how the sailing trades "conscripted" crew ... there are still bars in SF with the trap doors where inert bodies were dropped after they'd enjoyed a Mickey Finn :-)

From: Jan Roberts (chobham52 msn.com)
Subject: shanghai

We live in Astoria, Oregon and every year our local actors participate in a musical play "Shanghaied in Astoria" -- a farce. Nevertheless it is based on truth: many people were actually shanghaied from the bars and brothels in town and taken onto ships which sailed to various parts of the Orient.

From: Geirr Aakhus (geirr aakhus.com)
Subject: shanghai

You omit one of the more, -- perhaps most -- important tools of the shanghai business, the help of the mostly distaff artisans of the harbor trade: The Rose of the Harbor, whose side effects gave rise to the almost poetically named illness known as "a dose of the rose of the harbor". I know this from the seasoned minions of the seafaring trade in my home town, back before urology was a common medical specialty. Also, not only US ships augmented their crews in this fashion. The crimps serviced shipowners of all colors, creeds, and flag of registry, but with a keen eye for the bottom line.

Email of the Week (Made possible by i,000,000 - Fits smart mothers to a tee.

From: Capt. Richard Bailey (hms-rose comcast.net)
Subject: shanghai

In years past, while sailing a large square-rigged vessel, some of my crew would occasionally joke that the best way to deal with an under-performing fellow crew member might be to take him/her out to a pub/tavern/bar for too many drinks and then leave the person in the drinking establishment; to 'shang-low' them. Language is ever evolving.

From: Greg Mitchell (wolf write-brain.net)
Subject: AWAD -- shanghai

You wrote, "The practice ended with The Seamen's Act of 1915 that made crimping a federal crime." Do you honestly believe that ended it? After all, murder has been a crime for centuries, yet thousands of people have their lives snuffed out by others every year. The Seamen's Act may have ended widespread or overt crimping, but the practice continued, in secret and at greatly reduced numbers, until steam-powered ships began to outnumber wind-powered: absent all that canvas to furl and unfurl, the need for unskilled labor aboard ships was greatly diminished.

From: Philip Jans (phil.jans co.chelan.wa.us)
Subject: shanghai

I have never heard the expression crimp (someone who shanghais unwilling sailors), but I have read about the press gangs, groups of men who did the same thing. Armed with belaying pins or coshes made from lengths of rope, they preferred to take sailors, drunk or sober, but in a pinch might settle for a lubber who looked fit enough to be of some use at sea. Their name comes, I presume, from "impress", to force into service.

From: Andrew Pressburger (andpress sympatico.ca)
Subject: Shanghai

The British had already employed this coercive method, boarding American ships and hijacking their crew to serve in the Royal Navy in the campaign of the West Indies during the War of 1812. The process was known as impressment, though one wonders who, outside the Admiralty, could be impressed by such a thing. Surely not the captives, even less the captains.

The method thus introduced was then employed by the Americans themselves in the imperialist thrust known as the "opening up of China" toward the end of the nineteenth century.

From: Graeme Snow (graeme.snow aad.gov.au)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--shanghai

Shanghai is also the name of a game of darts, of which there are a number of variations in the rules. To get a Shanghai is to land a dart in the single, double, and triple zones of the same number in one round of three throws, a feat of great skill and accuracy.

From: Dave Hatfield (ddhatfi verizon.net)
Subject: Exonyms (Re: Munich)
Def: A shortsighted or dishonorable appeasement.

Nothing drives me crazier than calling a single town, or even a country, by multiple names. I was stationed in the Netherlands back in the early 80s. One town in Belgium near us had three names: Liege in French, Luttich in German, and Luik in Dutch/Flemish. It took me a year to realize the road signs for these three towns, depending on which direction you approached from, were all the same town! The obvious ones: Koln/Cologne, Munchen/Munich, Deutschland/Allemagne/Germany, and many more.

It seems no different than my saying I know your name is Anu, but I think I will call you Frank, since Frank is easier for me.

From: Kevin Oldham (krieghund verizon.net)
Subject: Bayonet
Def: A blade attached to the muzzle of a gun, used in close combat.

I am reminded of the Russian General Suvorov, who said, "The bullet is a fool, but the bayonet is your friend." The idea is that a bullet can miss, but the bayonet does not. My translation is a little liberal. The actual quotation is, "Pulya - dura, a shtyk - molodets." I was in the first Army Basic Training class to reinstitute bayonet training in 1984.

From: Mik Hamilton (mik77 pacbell.net)
Subject: Bayonet

It's true that bayonet training is meant to pump up aggressiveness. When I was in basic training we had to shout "KILL" every time we made a bayonet thrust. When I refused, my drill Sgt. beat the crap out of me.

From: Jack Starkey (star30 verizon.net)
Subject: Bayonet

Of all the years I spent in the army, the Bayonet was a treasured tool, not just a sharp knife you could place on the end of a rifle and I did keep mine sharp.

From: Ken Hruby (ken.hruby verizon.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--bayonet

Just last month the Army changed basic training and eliminated the bayonet from the training schedule. The "spirit of the bayonet" has been part of infantry training for generations. It was part of an underlying physical training concept that promoted major muscle memory and an automatic response to a perceived threat. The "vertical butt-stroke series" was to be executed with an appropriate high-volume growling and aggressive posturing; lots of sweat, ferocity, and bluster would cause the enemy to flee in terror at the mere sight of anyone brandishing a flashing bayonet at the end of a rifle, apparently rendered impotent at a range too close to actually fire. In the mid-fifties, I went through bayonet training at West Point during the "Beast Barracks" phase of my four-year education there. That exhausting conditioning was tempered by an extraordinary antithesis: ballroom dancing lessons, often on the same afternoon. It appeared that the powers in charge of the training program were unsure of their expectations for us. In twenty-one years as an infantryman, I never fixed bayonets in combat, but I did dance a lot in a variety of venues. More here.

From: Hari Krishna (harimocherla gmail.com)
Subject: babylon
Def: A place of great luxury and extravagance, usually accompanied with vice and corruption.

Till now Babylonia is known for its hanging gardens and for a law called 'Law of Babylon' -- one of the most detailed ancient legal codes ever carved onto a great stone pillar.

My uncle, a renowned globetrotter, once told me about this stone pillar, now being displayed in the Louvre Museum in Paris. This law of Babylon was originally drawn up in 1758 BC by Hammurabi, a king of Babylon. The entire legal code consisting of 282 paragraphs was carved onto a great stone pillar, which was set up in a temple, so that it could be read and obeyed by every citizen.

The laws and code of conduct laid down by the king were more elaborate and extensive than many other previous laws. The law of Babylon covered crime, divorce, marriage, slaves, slave owners, settlement of debts, inheritance and property laws, and even taxes in that primitive age. King Hammurabi is also famous for passing a stern law warning citizens of their responsibility for dam maintenance to ensure proper irrigation facilities to the farmers in his territory.

From: Liz Thomas (imagine2 macau.ctm.net)
Subject: Babylon

Here in Macau, which is now the gambling capital of the world, one of the casinos is called Babylon. How we laughed at how appropriate the name is!

From: Jo Michie (jomichie2 googlemail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--babylon

In the Jamaican/Rastafarian community here in the UK, 'babylon' refers to the police, both singly and collectively, and the term has been adopted by many other young people. It stems from the belief that the state is strong and powerful but also corrupt and the police are seen as agents of the state. It would be interesting to know if the term is still in use in Jamaica.

From: Walter Reed (wlreed emory.edu)
Subject: Babylon

In certain circles, where the Bible is still a point of reference, Babylon is not just a place of luxury and vice, but a place of captivity and exile. Coming originally from the "Babylonian captivity" of Israel in the 6th c. BCE, it is applied typologically to imperial domination of the faithful in the Book of Revelation. This usage was popularized in Jamaican reggae, as in the hit song "By the rivers of Babylon", based on Psalm 137.

From: Fran Gillespie (gillespi qatar.net.qa)
Subject: maffick
Def: To celebrate boisterously.

The only time I recall seeing this verb used is in one of Saki's [Hector Munro's] short stories in which one of the characters is improvising verses and comes up with:

'Mother, may I go and maffick,
Tear around and hinder traffic.'

The word must have come into popular usage at around the time he was writing, as Munro was killed in 1918 in the first World War, less than two decades after the siege of Mafeking.

From: Harry Andreas (haandreas raytheon.com)
Subject: Maffick

Primarily an English (rather than an American) word, as noted, Maffick was coined to describe the pandemonium in London at the breaking of the Siege of Mafeking. The Siege of Mafeking was a signal moment in the career and future direction of Colonel Robert Baden-Powell (commanding) who, less than seven years later, would found the Scouting movement, and in 1910 the Boy Scouts of America, today celebrating their centennial year.

From: William Baxter (wbaxter cnsp.com)
Subject: maffick

I can't see a reference to the siege of Mafikeng without thinking of Baden-Powell, and the celebrated product of that spate of savagery. Likewise, there is a fascinating connection with another siege, that of Badajoz, Spain, during the Peninsular War, and Ladysmith, South Africa. So many factoids and so little time!

From: Andrew Pressburger (andpress sympatico.ca)
Subject: Toponyms

Like Munich, the Danish capital and harbour city of Copenhagen has likewise become a toponym, albeit less well known than its Bavarian counterpart. The verb "to copenhagen" means to turn a blind eye as supposedly did Admiral Horatio Nelson who, lacking the sight in one eye, raised the telescope to that one while awaiting the flashed signal whether to attack the Danish fleet or not in 1801. Thus he was able to claim he had not been told to hold fire, and proceeded to destroy this allied force of Napoleon without incurring the wrath of the Admiralty for violation of the sovereignty of an ostensibly neutral kingdom. More here.

From: Geoff Sart (aggmsmart vodamail.co.za)
Subject: Stars

To truly see the stars you need to be in the mountains or a desert. Some 25 years ago we camped on the edge of the Kalahari desert in Botswana. As the sun set we pulled our mattresses from the tent, lay back and watched the stars come out. 1, 3, 4, 5, 7; stayed at 7 for a while then suddenly 70,000 then 70 million. Awesome!

From: Eric Shackle (eshackle ozemail.com.au)
Subject : Stars

Don McIntyre, an intrepid Australian adventurer, will probably navigate by the stars (and with a little help from the latest technology) when on April 28 he re-enacts Captain William Bligh's epic Voyage of the Bounty in an open boat from Tonga to Timor. More here.

You have to fall in love with hanging around words. -John Ciardi, poet and translator (1916-1986)

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