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AWADmail Issue 41

Aug 5, 2001

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

From: Sylvie Ravenhill (sylravenAThome.com)
Subject: RE: A.Word.A.Day--humble pie

First off, I really enjoy AWAD. I also have one quick note regarding the Dutch expression "verloren hoop". Although hoop translates to heap or bunch, it is also translatable to the English word "hope". "Ik hoop dat AWAD nog heel lang doorgaat" translates to "I hope that AWAD will continue for a long time yet".

From: Harvey Levine (lharveyAToptonline.net)
Subject: Spelling

The story about the spelling dilemna reminds me of another spelling story. When my sister was at Smith College, she took part in a spelling bee. one of the words (which she spelled correctly) was desiccate. The professor who was the judge of the competition insisted that she was wrong and that the correct spelling was dessicate. At her insistence, they looked it up in a dictionary. The professor was aghast and revealed that he was a member of the Board of Editors of the dictionary and stated that he would call the publisher in the morning to "have them correct the error"!

From: Philippe Raclet (pracletATnoos.fr)
Subject: Dilemma

The French for dilemma is "dilemme". And a constant misspelling for this word is "dilemne". I've seen people of every age making this error. It appears frequently in newspapers...

It's funny, the problem appears in English too. And I'm curious to know what's the origin of it.

From: Robert S. O'Brien (obrien30AThome.com)
Subject: E.B. White

As a young undergraduate at San Francisco State in 1956, in the writing program studying under Walter van Tilburg Clark, Mark Harris and Harvey Swados, I always went to the school library whenever a new edition of the New Yorker arrived. One day, to clear up a point, I wrote a one-page letter to the Editor of the magazine, asking where I could obtain a copy of its Style Manual. My under- or over-use of the hyphen in something I had written for class had been questioned by a professor, and I hoped to bolster my position with confirming documentation from a well-known and very respected journal of the day. The response came quickly and it was signed by E.B. White, who had appointed himself to answer my letter. First, he said that the New Yorker had no Style Manual or Guide or anything else in writing to tell people how to write. A lot of the copy wound up on his desk before going to typesetting, and he did what he could with it while keeping up with his other duties on the staff. No one ever told him that he had to do that; he just wanted the magazine to present the best copy possible each issue. No one ever told him not to do that. He said, in fact, that no one ever mentioned this, one way or another. I took that to mean that even Thurber did not object to White's editing, if Thurber's work ever came under White's scrutiny.

What really astonished me was that E.B. White then launched into a seven-page essay (single spaced on a typewriter into which someone had recently installed a fresh ribbon) about the uses of the hyphen, as he understood it! Needless to say, I kept the letter for many years and referred to it often as I chugged along on a strange and wonderful career punching out words onto, first, paper and, now, onto glass -- a computer monitor. Then, at the end of 1972, I took a consulting job in Anchorage. All of my possessions that did not fit into a single suitcase were put into a storage locker. On my return to San Francisco on Christmas Day, I went to the locker building to retrieve some items that I wanted immediately. The area was barricaded by police and the fire department. The locker building was a raging inferno that burned to the ground with all of my possessions, including the precious seven-page letter from E.B. White.

I don't know why I thought that you would be interested in this small tale.

From: Paddy Hernon (paddyATtallship.ca)
Subject: Sinister...

I realize that this comment is a bit out of date. My excuse is that I live on a small ship and, during the summer, I am not often in port with ready access to email.

The comments on "sinister" and "ambisinister" reminded me of a quip attributed to one of our more famous Prime Ministers, the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

Following a particularly long-winded speech in parliament by a socialist member, Mr Trudeau rose and said simply, "How fortunate we are in this country, Mr. Speaker, that the left is more gauche than sinister."

While I'm at it, the word "trilemma" occurs in a minor conversation between two drunken Roman soldiers in the motion picture "The Fall of the Roman Empire".

From: Anita Citron (anitac1ATerols.com)
Subject: a sad tale

I have become a pusher. Yes, it's true.

I have addicted at least four other people to AWAD. Now they can't live without it. I fear I've also lost my 16 year old grandson who has now spent hours going through the AWAD archives completely in the thrall of all those words.

Oh, woe.

A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used. -Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., jurist (1841-1935)

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