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AWADmail Issue 422

August 1, 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

Taiwan Seeks to Save Indigenous Languages
BBC News

As English Spreads, Indonesians Fear for Their Language
The New York Times

Lost in Translation
The Wall Street Journal

From: Ingrid Andersen (i.andersen vodamail.co.za)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--artificer
Def: 1. An inventor. 2. A craftsperson. 3. A mechanic in the armed forces.

I first learned the meaning of the word artificer when I moved to Grahamstown (South Africa), where the houses of the expert craftsmen are preserved in the Artificers' Square.

These hapless settlers from England were amongst the first occupants of Grahamstown, along with the military. Many of the them had fled the violent frontier wars to settle in the city, abandoning their arid Empire-allocated farms to do so. Their heritage is preserved at the 1820 Settlers Monument in Grahamstown.

From: Mike Reed (mikereed iburst.co.za)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--artificer

Affectionately known in many armed forces as tiffies, and especially affectionately when they arrive to retrieve your broken-down vehicle whilst you are under fire from the enemy.

From: Charles Chambers (marmon1 hotmail.com)
Subject: Articifer

Many years ago, before World War Two, I joined the Texas National Guard at the tender age of sixteen. My sergeant was explaining to me the jobs of several individuals who were full time employees of the Guard. One was identified as an Armorer Articifer. It sounded to my untrained ear like something from ancient times, like someone who worked on the armor of knights. I soon learned that he kept our rifles and other firearms in working order.

From: ML Cohen (mlcohen linux.com)
Subject: artificer

One of my all-time favorite closing lines (though its meaning, like our theme this week, is probably quite different from the way it appears):

Welcome, O life, I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race. Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.
-Stephen Dedalus, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (James Joyce, 1919)

From: Lisa D. Witte (ldwitte hotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--noisome
Def: 1. Offensive, especially to the sense of smell. 2. Harmful; noxious.

It amused me when a major cosmetics firm came out with a product called Niosôme. I thought they might be poking fun at all the people who would buy their product as long as the name was (or sounded) French. I'm sure there's a better rationale for the name than that, but still I was amused.

[See niosomes.]

Email of the Week - (Courtesy One Up! - Are you wicked, smart?)

From: Lorie Vallejo (loredith_joy yahoo.com)
Subject: psychopomp
Def: A guide of souls, one who escorts a soul of a newly-deceased to the afterlife.

The character "Death" in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series is the best example of a psychopomp.

Contrary to what his name (self-explanatory) and appearance (complete with a hooded cloak and scythe) may suggest, Death does not kill. Rather, the character "collects" someone upon his death. The destination depends on what the person believes in.

If the person believed in reincarnation, he will be reincarnated. If he believed that there there is nothing after dying, he will just cease to exist. If he believed in heaven, he will go to heaven.

Death's role is merely to collect and deliver.

From: Meridith Lee (tempsec2 smwlaw.com)
Subject: Psychopomp

My first thought at this new word: Rush Limbaugh! But unfortunately he doesn't fit the real definition. Enjoy these daily bursts of vocabulary building and literary insights.

From: Mary Minton (maryhc comcast.net)
Subject: meretricious
Def: 1. Appealing in a cheap or showy manner: tawdry. 2. Based on pretense or insincerity.

Seems to me I recall someone in the "Pogo" comic strip wishing a pal "Meretricious and a Happy New Year!"

From: James Naples (jamespnaples yahoo.com)
Subject: Meretricious

A funny thing happened a little over a year ago involving this word. The Dallas Morning News ran a photo of my daughter and a handful of her fellow students at Marcus High School (home of the "Marauders") in Flower Mound, Texas. The students had just been named as National Merit Scholarship Finalists, considered a notable achievement. The headline over the caption: "Meretricious Marauders".

A weak apology and correction followed after I let the newspaper in on their incredible faux pas. Of course, they meant Meritorious.

From: Ramaswami S (ramaswami.s gmail.com)
Subject: meretricious

In the Asterix comic "Obelix and Co.", the Gauls are corrupted into spending all their time manufacturing menhirs for money. Caius Preposterus, advisor to Caesar, has the idea of reselling the menhirs to Romans at a profit (!) All goes well until one Meretricius starts making menhirs in Rome. When questioned, he talks about workers' rights: "The right of a slave is the right to work! He must not be denied it!"

From: Jim Tang (mauijt aol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--meretricious

This delightful word is part of every California attorney's education. In Marvin v. Marvin, Lee Marvin's live-in non-spousal unit sued him for support after he dumped her, saying she had been promised lifelong support. The court found the oral contract to be enforceable, as long as the live-in arrangement was not for meretricious sex.

The court did not explain why somebody would ever make such an agreement unless tawdry sex was part of the deal. But given the word's root (prostitution), there is a certain amount of irony in this legal judgment from a field that has long been equated with prostitution, and where the only test for sincerity is whether the lawyer can keep a straight face when making an argument.

Regards, Jim Tang
Kula, Hawaii (the state also known as Kenya to 30 million Americans)

English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment, and education -- sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. -E.B. White, writer (1899-1985)

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