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AWADmail Issue 414

June 6, 2010

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

Email of the Week courtesy Uppityshirts: Well-(Read) and Well-(Bred)

From: Shrisha Rao (shrao nyx.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--McKenzie
Def: Someone who attends a court trial as an adviser to one of the parties.

The problem of misplaced credit is not restricted to scientific discoveries, unfortunately. Burnside's Lemma in mathematics is also called the lemma that is not Burnside's, for instance.

A legal analogue of a McKenzie is an amicus curiae, a concept dating back to Roman law.

From: Julia Chevan (jchevan spfldcol.edu)
Subject: McKenzie

Physical Therapists see this word and think about backs and necks (and possibly extension exercises).
The McKenzie Method - Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy is a philosophy of active patient involvement and education used by practitioners and patients for back, neck, and extremity problems.

From: Rogers George (rogers.george gmail.com)
Subject: orrery
Def: A mechanical model of the solar system that represents the relative motions of the planets around the sun.

Peoria, Illinois has a large scale model of the solar system, too. The Sun is represented by the dome of the Lakeview planetarium in Peoria. A park in the nearby city of Pekin hosts a planet, to scale, and features several interesting sundials to boot.

From: Declan Rieb (darieb comcast.net)
Subject: orrery

The famous Antikythera mechanism, dating from 150-100 BCE, may have included a display of planetary motions (probably Mars and Venus, possibly the other three known to the ancients also). It certainly allowed predicting positions of the earth, moon, and sun, although using a geocentric model.

Since the builder is unknown, it does nothing to change this week's theme, except move the invention of a mechanical model back quite far in time.

From: Kai Pau (kai.pau cbsa-asfc.gc.ca)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--orrery

There was an intricate depiction of a fictitious orrery in the 1982 movie The Dark Crystal, and I remember as a youth at the time trying to explain the concept of the orrery to someone who hadn't seen the film. The film's premise involves the solving of the enigmatic prophecy, "When single shines the triple sun, / What was sundered and undone / Shall be whole, the two made one, / By Gelfling hand, or else by none." One of the characters uses the fictitious orrery to track the movement of the celestial bodies to determine the timing of the solar conjunction. As she puts it in the film, "Everything in the heavens is here, moving as the heavens move. This is how to know when... Suns, moons, stars. Yes, the angle of eternity."

A screenshot of the orrery in the film is here.

From: davidsdottir (via Wordsmith Talk bulletin board)
Subject: Orrery

There is a very fine orrery in Glasgow's wonderful Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. It was constructed by John Fulton, born 1800, the son of an Ayrshire cobbler, and destined to be a cobbler himself. He was self-educated, teaching himself maths and astronomy in his spare time. He began making orreries as a teenager and this is his third and most complex, completed 1833. (links: 1, 2).

From: Naomi Rosen (swidler gmail.com)
Subject: philippic and incorrect attributions
Def: A bitter condemnation, usually in a speech.

I can't think of this word without remembering Simon and Garfunkel's A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara'd Into Submission). In this song, the singers drop a lot of names. Presumably, these people are all alluded to correctly.

From: Eve Nell (ebnineteen hotmail.com)
Subject: Buridan's ass
Def: A situation demonstrating the impracticality of decision-making using pure reason, especially a situation involving two equal choices.

The term Buridan's ass brings to mind the words of a man I once knew. He told me the first thing he learned in business school was that "making a decision is often more important than the decision being made."

From: Richard Brown (brownrichardm yahoo.co.uk)
Subject: Buridan's ass

I first wondered if the Spanish word for donkey, Burro, derive from Buridan... one of those coincidences.

From: John Evans (btradish earthlink.net)
Subject: Buridan's algorithm

Computer programs which must choose between several options sometimes exhibit a Buridan's ass-related problem. For example, the computer game Master of Magic features turn-based battles where army units march around a battlefield. If you position two units on opposite corners of the battlefield, the enemy units will sometimes move repeatedly back and forth, unable to choose which of your units to attack. When enough turns have elapsed the battle ends in a draw; therefore this situation, while rare, can potentially be turned to strategic advantage!

From: Piers Nye (piers.nye balliol.ox.ac.uk)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--Buridan's ass

My favourite example, by a long way, comes from AA Milne the creator of Winnie the Pooh. It's from Now We Are Six (1927).

The Old Sailor
by A.A. Milne

There was once an old sailor my grandfather knew
Who had so many things which he wanted to do
That, whenever he thought it was time to begin,
He couldn't because of the state he was in.

More here.

From: Rudy Chelminski (rudychelminski aol.com)
Subject: guillotine
Def: A device with a heavy blade that drops between two posts to behead someone.

It may amuse you to know that one of the several colloquial names for the guillotine in France is The National Razor.

From: Syed F. Akbar (akbarf sbcglobal.net)
Subject: Guillotine

The BBC mini-series "Terry Jones: Medieval Lives" -- true stories of damsels, knights, peasants, and other characters of the Middle Ages. Challenging the myths and stereotypes associated with the era ... claims that the guillotine was invented and was in use in Ireland long before the executions of French nobility, during the French Revolution, gave it notoriety and universal recognition.

From: Robert Payne (dziga68 sbcglobal.net)
Subject: Words not named after the person they should be

I wonder if the name of the American landmass would qualify for your category of "words not named after the person they should be". As the story goes, the cartographer Martin Waldseemüller named the landmass in 1507 after the then-celebrated explorer Amerigo Vespucci, and some believe that Christopher Columbus should have received the honor.

Of course, this dredges up the wearisome issue of who actually "discovered" America. Columbus? Leif Ericson? The Norse Greenlanders? The direct ancestors of modern-day Native Americans? People before them? Thinking about all of this makes me wonder if anything at all is named after the person it should be.

Language is a form of human reason, which has its internal logic of which man knows nothing. -Claude Levi-Strauss, anthropologist (1908-2009)

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