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AWADmail Issue 411

May 16, 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

Guest-Teaching Chinese, and Learning America
The New York Times

Dictionary Blunder a Matter of Gravity
ABC News (Australia)

Australian TV Show Teaches Aboriginal Language
Media Network

Strange Signs From Abroad
The New York Times

From: Laurie Kaniarz (lauriszka chartermi.net)
Subject: Words Derived from Mythical Places

Your honorary name for this week should be A World A Day! (Thank you for saving us from having to fly to these places.)

From: Brian H. Cole (bhcole1 gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--utopia
Def: 1. An ideal place or state. 2. An impractical scheme for social or political reform.

As you note in your etymology, "utopia" derives from the Greek "ou (not) + topos (place)"--that is, "no place" or "nowhere".

More was trying to make the point that the idealized place that he described existed nowhere. The same can be said of Samuel Butler's Erewhon (which is near reverse of "nowhere").

From: Rudy Rosenberg Sr (RRosenbergSr accuratechemical.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--utopia

If you have ever driven on the Long Island Expressway (LIE) from Long Island into Queens and towards Manhattan you could not have missed the LIE sign to "Utopia Parkway".

I've never been able to figure out which Utopia it refers to.

From: Nancy Day (poemmom gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--utopia

Utopia made me smile. There is a place called Utopia in the Texas Hill Country. It's a small town sitting in the Sabinal Basin, which is crisscrossed by the Sabinal River. Two friends own adjoining properties there. When my friend was still working as a school curriculum director, she would leave work on Fridays and announce: I'm heading for Utopia. Months later when she brought pictures to show, her colleagues laughed, telling her they thought she was being metaphorical. So for us, who are invited for lovely weekends on the land, there really is a Utopia.

From: zmjezhd (via Wordsmith Talk bulletin board)
Subject: Re: Utopia

Outopia and Eutopia [from Greek ou: not, and eu: good] are homonyms in English only. In both Classical and Modern Greek they have distinct pronunciations. A friend of More's, Erasmus, also had a punning title in his Moriae encomium "In Praise of Folly", with The Latinized Greek Moria standing in for Sir Thomas's surname. It was published a few years before More's Utopia.

From: Kristine Floren (k1floren comcast.net)
Subject: Utopia

My dad has a favorite story about a guy at work who was exasperated by someone complaining, everything was a letdown, nothing was done right, etc. Finally he said what he thought: "You want Ethiopia!" and everyone fell down laughing.

From: Lee Wood (leecranewood hotmail.com)
Subject: RE: A.Word.A.Day--cockaigne
Def: An imaginary land of luxury and idleness.

In my 1971 edition of The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, a number of the recipes are designated "Cockaigne" - as in Creme Meringue Tart Cockaigne. The Foreword and Guide to this edition states "...in response to many requests from users of 'The Joy' who ask 'What are your favorites?', we have added to some of our recipes the word 'Cockaigne', which signified in medieval times 'a mythical land of peace and plenty', and also happens to be the name of our country home." This label appears to have been dropped, as have many of the recipes, in later editions of the cookbook.

From: Manfred Kroger (kv7 psu.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--cockaigne

The German equivalent to cockaigne is Schlaraffenland, a term used by numerous writers for centuries. But I don't know since when and what its origin is. During Germany's worst year of hunger in 1946 I stared at the Bruegel picture very often hoping for change.

Thank you for having created for us a Schlaraffenland brimming with words and insights.

Manfred Kroger, Professor of Food Science Emeritus, The Pennsylvania State University

From: Carsten Kruse (c-kruse t-online.de)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--cockaigne

Interestingly, the modern German term for this land of milk and honey has no longer to do with "cake" or "kokenje" -- it's Schlaraffenland. The word derives from middle high German "sluraff" (idler, lazybone) and literally meant "the land of the idle monkeys". The Bruegel painting mentioned by you is titled "Das Schlaraffenland" in German.

Email of the Week (Brought to you by Johnny Mustard - Put some mustard on it.)

From: Dave Dewhurst (davejd telus.net)
Subject: Cockaigne

The word cockaigne reminds me of a story I read (in some sleeve notes) of Sir Edward Elgar. Sometime after he'd written his Cockaigne Overture, it was pointed out to him that cocaine, in those days, was also an anaesthetic and perhaps he should have named it the "Anaesthetic Overture". His reported response was, "Ether will do".

From: Susan Campbell (susan.campbell libertysurf.fr)
Subject: cockaigne

In the pays de cocagne, the triangle between Toulouse, Albi, and Carcassonne in France, it is claimed that the area became known as the land of plenty when the growing of the pastel plant (woad), a blue dye for colouring cloth, brought great wealth to the region in the golden age of pastel -- 1463-1560. After that indigo arrived in the West making pastel uncompetitive and its cultivation was eventually abandoned.

The pastel plant's leaves were harvested, crushed, and shaped to form shells, or "cocagnes", from which the blue dye was obtained. The climate and soil of the Midi-Toulousain region were particularly suitable for its cultivation.

The demand for pastel blue was so great that a Pastel Market was set up in Toulouse, trading posts were established all over the West and the shells were even transported on special roads. The rich merchants of Toulouse soon built magnificent mansions for themselves and these are still there today.

From: Rudy Rosenberg (rudyrr att.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--cockaigne

The French word, still in use today is "cocagne" and its origin is from Napoli, "cuccagna".

Beside the Land of Cocagne, there is also a "Mat de Cocagne" that appears in small fairs. It is a high mast usually with a wheel on the top. The object is to climb to the top of the mast to unhook desirable objects that are the climber's to take.

The mast is very straight, polished, sometimes greased. Watching the mighty efforts of the climbers attempting to reach the top is the source of much glee for the people watching from below.

From: Bethany Joshua (tertiafilia gmail.com)
Subject: cockaigne

Also the word from which 'cocaine' is derived. A few days ago, one of my nephews said, "Let this land stay far away from the glittering laziness of the land of Cockaigne." A bit flowery in language, but a true fear.

Several readers wondered if cocaine had any relation to Cockaigne. Etymologically, the two words are unrelated. Cocaine was named by the German chemist Albert Niemann who coined the word after coca leaves from which it's extracted. The word is named, like other alkaloids (quinine, nicotine, caffeine, etc.), by adding the suffix -ine to the name of the plant.
-Anu Garg

From: Joseph C Mohen (josephcmohen comcast.net)
Subject: Shangri-la
Def: An imaginary, idyllic place that is remote and secluded.

In 1942, when reporters asked President Roosevelt for the location of the airbase from which Gen Jimmy Doolittle's bombers used for their attack on Tokyo, the President said, with a smile, "Shangri-La". The fact that the bombers were launched from aircraft carriers, almost impossible logistically, was a military secret at the time, later immortalized in the book/movie "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo". I finally learned the source of the expression years later as a young man when I first saw the movie version of James Hilton's novel, "Lost Horizon".

From: Jim Brown (jdbrown hawaii.rr.com)
Subject: Shangri-la

In honor of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's reply that the bombers had been launched from Shangri-La, the US Navy actually named an aircraft carrier USS Shangri-la (CVA-38), the only carrier ever named for an imaginary place.

From: Gene Youtz (deyoutz aol.com)
Subject: Shangri-La

In 1943 FDR renamed a WPA compound in Northern Maryland known as Hi-Catoctin, to Shangri-La, which he used as a presidential retreat. It remained so until President Eisenhower renamed it Camp David, in honor of his grandson. However, had Ike not changed his name from David Dwight to Dwight David, it might now be known as Camp Dwight. Perhaps past conferences may have yielded more lasting results had they changed the name back to Shangri-La.

From: Zach Shatz (prismind hotmail.com)
Subject: Shangri-la

While indeed Shangri-la originates in Hilton's novel, it's believed by some to refer to some actual place in or around Tibet. This might merely be for promotional purposes by an ambitious tourist bureau. In any case, Zhongdian County in western Yunnan province (P.R. China) has renamed itself Shangri-la with prideful claims to its nominal legitimacy. If remoteness is one criterion of its authenticity, this contender meets that well.

From: Andy Ayer (andy.ayer chevron.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--shangri-la

Apparently, it's not so imaginary any more. See National Geographic. Check out the lovely photos, too.

From: Bill Dortch (bill.dortch gmail.com)
Subject: Shangri-la

Back in the early 1980s, while working in the Middle East, I twice visited Nepal. On my first visit, while poring over an old topographical map on the wall of a lodge, I spotted an area named Changra, which was indeed next to a "la", or pass. In fact, I'm fairly certain it was labeled the "Changra la", though I can find no reference to that now on the Internet, where one would think it would have been noted by others. Not that I really believe the name inspired Hilton's Shangri-la, but I've sometimes liked to imagine it might have.

The region is certainly stunning, but my first visit was not precisely idyllic. I arrived in Kathmandu during a religious festival, as part of which livestock were sacrificed, their bloody carcasses dragged through the streets, and blood smeared on every available surface, purportedly for good luck. A sometimes-nervous flier, I had a moment's hesitation before clambering into the pre-bloodied fuselage of the too-small Pilatus Porter aircraft that would fly us up to the Shangboche air strip and Hotel Everest View. Our pilot, the notable Emil Wick, who had once been a test pilot for Pilatus, appeared to have had a rough night; as we skimmed over ridges, at times just above tree-top level, he took strong drags on, alternately, the oxygen mask in one hand, and the cigarette in the other.

I didn't know what a landing in a tail-dragger aircraft was supposed to feel like; for all I knew the heavy thud and subsequent scraping and crunching were normal. According to witnesses on the ground, the tail wheel flew hundreds of feet in the air when it snapped off, after which we plowed a six-inch furrow the length of the grass strip. But we aboard were all intact, so perhaps the blood did its magic after all. The visitors waiting to return to Kathmandu were now stranded; shortly thereafter the weather socked in the strip; we doubled up in the rooms; and so we whiled away a couple of days not far from the Changra la.

Two days later the weather broke, and the Royal Nepalese Air Force (!) arrived in a helicopter with a new tail assembly, a repair crew, and a fresh pilot. A few days after that, after some marvelous day treks, up to the Buddhist monastery at Tengboche, and down to the Sherpa capital of Namche Bazaar, it was our turn to leave. We strapped into our seats, and a moment after our new pilot began his takeoff run down the strip, he came on the intercom to explain to us that the runway was just a bit short for a proper takeoff, and so we would be falling off the cliff when we reached the end of it. But just for an instant, until gravity supplied that last needed bit of airspeed. I hoped they hadn't cleaned the blood off the fuselage too thoroughly.

Here's some information on Emil Wick and the Pilatus Porter in Nepal.

From: Victor Morano (zhivago comcast.net)
Subject: Etymology of Shangri-La

I suggest if you want to know the real origins of Shangri-la you read Charles Allen's book The Search for Shangri-la. Western culture may have gotten the name Shangri-La from James Hilton's novel but he didn't just make it up.

From: Alain Gottcheiner (agot ulb.ac.be)
Subject: Garden of Eden

The words "Garden of Eden" have another meaning in the very specific context of the Game of Life, an automaton where groups of pixels are derived from each other using a fixed set of laws. Some pixel configurations are called "Gardens of Eden" because they can't be derived from any other. It isn't the idyllic character that constitutes the metaphor, but rather the fact that it can only be created ex nihilo and the start of history.

Notice the irony, as the Game of Life is inter alia used as a way to explain evolutionary mechanisms.

From: Barbara Sanders (barbaras sf.nsw.gov.au)
Subject: Land of Oz
Def: An unreal or magical place.

That's where I live. Australians refer to Australia as the Land of Oz. I actually live in the Emerald City ... Sydney.

Languages, like our bodies, are in a perpetual flux, and stand in need of recruits to supply those words that are continually falling through disuse. -Cornelius Conway Felton, educator (1807-1862)

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