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AWADmail Issue 409

May 2, 2010

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

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

Listening to (and Saving) the World's Languages
The New York Times, (video)

Was Shakespeare's Ghost writer ... Shakespeare?

Spelling and Grammar Police on Twitter
The New York Times

Clever Startup Names Giving Way to Too Cute
The Seattle Times

Pardon My French
The New York Times

Indonesians Seek Words to Attract China's Favor
The New York Times

From: Karen Howell (bpwkhowell lycos.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--cathect
Def: To invest mental or emotional energy in an idea, object, or person.

When I was a senior in high school, many years ago, my English teacher, Mrs Atkinson, was this word's nemesis. She was also active in community theater and could be a little dramatic -- tall, blonde, blue-eyed, and Texan. She had a discussion about this word with the vice-principal and he told her, "It's in the dictionary."

With blue eyes flashing she responded, "Well! Hell and damn are in the dictionary and I prefer you don't use those words in my presence, either!" I'd be willing to bet she's no more accepting now than she was then.

From: Peirce Hammond (peirce_hammond ed.gov)
Subject: Cathect

Cathexis is a central idea in Freudian thinking. It is a bit like what in animals is called imprinting, though the latter term is more specific and, generally, much more time-bound (having a "critical period" during which it happens or the chance for imprinting is irretrievably gone). It is natural to cathect to one's parents and important others as a young person. But trauma also excites and enables cathexis and the resulting energetic transfer can be debilitating or can be led to creativity as in the Jane Goodall example. This is likely to be referred to as "sublimation" by a Freudian.

From: Bailey Moseley (bcmoseley pobox.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--sass
Def: To talk disrespectfully, especially to someone older or in authority.

It is a comment on the laxity of our society that the word "sass" would be unusual enough to qualify for your column. Being raised in the South, the word was common to me as a child and it represented a cardinal sin. I knew that incredible wrath was about to descend on me when I heard my father say the dreaded words: "Don't ever sass your mother!"

From: Elaine Chilcote (echilcote nf.sympatico.ca)
Subject: callithump
Def: 1. A noisy, boisterous celebration or parade. 2. A mock serenade with pots, pans, kettles, etc., given for a newly married couple.

Callithump is a new word for me, but when I read the second meaning, to serenade newlyweds by banging on pots, pans, and kettles, I realized that I had taken part in a few callithumps as a small child in the late forties in western Pennsylvania. The adults called it a serenade, and I later learned the word shivaree but had never heard callithump. It was a lot of fun to be allowed to bang on an old kettle with an old metal serving spoon, making as much racket as possible, and watching the normally staid parents and grandparents doing the same. This custom disappeared from the old neighborhood long ago, like so many other customs from my childhood.

From: Helen Penny (hngpenny comcast.net)
Subject: Callithump

I grew up in the 40s and 50s in an Irish-American family in Butte, MT, a deep-shaft copper mining town. My siblings and I heard ourselves and others referred to as Callithumpians, Spalpeens, Blatherskites, Tinkers, and Turks. There were words from many languages and cultures; we even had a Bohunkus Day parade. Thanks for reminding me of all those epithets that could still roll off my tongue when another word just doesn't fill the bill.

Email of the Week (Courtesy Uppityshirts - Hi Mom.)

From: Wendy Johnston (johnston mnr.org)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--callithump

My grandfather, who died before I was born, apparently always used 'callithumpian' to describe his religion on any form that he had to complete. As a child I asked what this word meant and my father told me that it was a word that was made up. But I now understand that my grandfather suitably appropriated the word, as from the stories I have heard about him, callithumpian clearly defines his outlook on life -- someone who enjoyed disrupting the formal conventions of society.

From: Chris Gow (christopher.gow hfi.com.au)
Subject: callithump

Callithump leads to 'Callithumpian' or 'Calathumpian' which, in my childhood memory at least, was a humorous term for any religious group, usually Protestant. It was not particularly negative or derogatory. I still find it very useful, as in "We had the Callithumpians at the door trying to flog their pamphlets." I put my religion down as Callithumpian at the last census!

From: Penny Randolph (prandol verizon.net)
Subject: cerebrate
Def: To use the mind: to think, reason.

Love this word! Years ago, having studied different cultures in conjunction with a local museum, my 5th grade enrichment students planned a culminating presentation. The invitation read:

3C: Custom, Costume, Cuisine
Come to Our Multi-Cultural Cerebration!

In the School Superintendent's reply, "cerebration" circled, he admonished: "You should always proofread for spelling errors." Imagine our delight when we could tell him such a word really existed!

From: Ted Rusoff (theodore_rusoff fastwebnet.it)
Subject: back-formations

Sass is about the only back-formation that my intolerant and snobby soul can put up with. Laze drives me up the wall, and as for burgle and reminisce! Well, I have to watch my blood pressure, so I won't go on. One wonderful one, though: P.G. Wodehouse's "He (Jeeves) can buttle with the best of them." But it takes a genius. Love love love your posts.

From: Greg Balding (greg.balding gmail.com)
Subject: back-formations

One my favourite back-formations, which is becoming quite common among Australian school-children (mine included), is the verb 'to verse', meaning 'to play against', a back-formation of 'versus'.

From: Thomas Bookwalter (thomas fmdc.com)
Subject: Back formation

The word Yankees as a reference to New Yorker comes from the nickname, Jan Kees, for the Dutch settlers. Jan Kees is a fairly common Dutch name still today. It was not a plural but a singular word, so Yankee as the singular of the plural Yankees is somewhat similar to the words of this week.

From: Henry Willis (hmw ssdslaw.com)
Subject: Mafeking, Kipling, and back-formation

It's a corny joke but it illustrates the process:

He: Do you like Kipling?
She: I don't know, you naughty boy, I've never kippled.

This was the text of the most popular postcard that Donald McGill, the king of double entendre, ever created, according to Time's obituary of him. George Orwell doubted he was a real person (link), but Orwell was always a better essayist than reporter.

From: Noel Burn (noelxburn yahoo.com)
Subject: Introduction to this week's words

Your preamble to "cathect" reminded me of a quirk of colleagues and friends from Goa, India, many years ago. A lot of them would use "off" and "on" as verbs e.g. "the lights are too bright here. I'll off a couple of them."

From: Suzanne Graham (rsgrahamog yahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--accrete

I recently was astonished (shouldn't have been) to hear "predate", as in "the action of a predator". Perhaps the author had never heard of "to prey".

From: Chris Handley (chris redheron.com)
Subject: Back-formations

As a retired Computer Science lecturer, one back-formation that really got on my nerves was the use of 'vertice' ('singular' of 'vertices') instead of vertex.

From: William J. Pease (wpease mail.sdsu.edu)
Subject: Back-formation

My surname demonstrates a different sort of back-formation. "Pease" was originally the name of the vegetable (plural: "peasen") as in "pease porridge hot". To conform to common phonic usage the plural became "pease", the the final letter was dropped, and the singular evolved to become "pea".

From: Eric Shackle (eshackle ozemail.com.au)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--accrete

You say that the word accrete is ultimately from the Indo-European root ker- (to grow), which is also the source of words such as crew. I've just written a story about the crew of the HMS Bounty which gives the details of an attempt to re-enact the perilous voyage of William Bligh, who sailed from Tonga to Timor, after he was shanghaied into an open boat by mutineers on the HMS Bounty. It was the greatest navigational voyage in maritime history. You can see the story in my blog.

Language is the armoury of the human mind; and at once contains the trophies of its past, and the weapons of its future conquests. -Samuel Taylor Coleridge, poet, critic, and philosopher (1772-1834)

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