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AWADmail Issue 427

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

From: Judy Stiles (stilesj tessco.com)
Subject: Agent Provocateur
Def: Someone employed to encourage or provoke suspects into doing something illegal so they can be arrested or discredited.

Interesting to learn the real meaning of this phrase, my daughter manages a lingerie shop by this name in NYC, so we use this phrase often in my home. When I tell people what company she works for, I recommend that they not open the website on their work computer!

From: Allan Forsyth (aerofan262 aol.com)
Subject: Poem by Hafez, quoted Aug 30, 2010

Now is the time to understand / That all your ideas of right and wrong / Were just a child's training wheels / To be laid aside / When you finally live / With veracity / And love. -Hafez, poet (1315-1390)

Somehow I doubt that Hafez wrote about "a child's training wheels" in the fourteenth century. This calls to mind a French expression, to add to those in this week's selections: Traduire c'est trahir, meaning "To translate is to betray."

Many readers questioned the anachronism "training wheel" in those lines when bicycle itself was invented hundreds of years after the poet. These lines were a "translation" by Daniel Ladinsky (who does not speak Persian) in his book The Gift. It turns out these lines are not translation at all, but renderings inspired by Hafez. There's no analogue to Ladinsky's lines in the original Persian poetry of Hafez. Learn more in the reviews of the book.
-Anu Garg

From: Lynne Glasscoe (lynne.glasscoe gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--agent provocateur

"Stanislav Beranek was critical over the creation of the role of agent provocateur, who will seek to provoke artificial situations in which someone will accept a bribe."
Cillian O'Donoghue; New Pandur Purchase Inquiry Launched; The Prague Post (Czech Republic); Jul 21, 2010.

I was amused that the usage for agent provacateur was gleaned from an article in a Czech journal written by what appears to be an Irishman. What does this tell us? That other nationalities using the English language are more comfortable with its nuances?

Email of the Week - (Discover One Up! - Live by the word, die by the sword.)

From: Claude Généreux (cgenereux cupe.ca)
Subject: decolletage
Def: A low neckline on a woman's dress.

Marie-Antoinette and Jacobins both enjoyed decolletage, but for different and opposite reasons, to the point that the queen lost her head.

From: Claude Hubert (claude75020 free.fr)
Subject: decolletage

In French décolletéÚ is the shape of a woman's dress which reveals her cleavage. Décolletage means cutting a metal bar to make screws and bolts. For many years it was the main industry in remote alpine places.

From: Tommy Lupo (wolf1069 aol.com)
Subject: Saudi Arabian Movie Censoring

It was interesting to see the quotation for the word "decolletage" mention the censoring of movies in Saudi Arabia. A few years ago, while working in Riyadh, I bought the Special Edition for the movie "300". There were two discs, and the first was censored. The second one with the bonus features, however, was not, so most of the scenes that had been deleted were viewable.

From: Lawrence Crumb (lcrumb uoregon.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--decolletage

I am reminded of the limerick:

A coed from dear old Bryn Mawr
Committed a dreadful faux pas:
She loosened a stay
In her décolleté,
Exposing her je ne sais quoi.

From: Michael D. McMullen (lawyerinsc aol.com)
Subject: decoll

I appreciated more than usual your invitation to "Explore decolletage in the Visual Thesaurus".

From: Craig Dolder (craig dolder.us)
Subject: Decolletage

Thank you for clarifying a lyric from my favorite musical, Les MisÚrables. In the wedding chorale a quatrain is sung:

I forget where we met
Was it not at the Chateau Lafarge
Where the duke did that puke
Down the Duchess's decolletage?

I had always inferred the meaning through contextual clues and never thought to search out the proper definition. Though my assumption was close, it's nice to know the true definition.

From: Thierry Larrivée (thierry_larrivee yahoo.com)
Subject: Fait accompli
Def: A thing accomplished: a done deal.

Under "MEANING:" you write: "noun: A thing accomplished: a done deal."
Well, it's literally right, but we (French speakers) usually use this expression to describe an action that has been completed BEFORE those affected by it can say anything about it or change it." For instance "Tu m'as mis devant le fait accompli." (You put me in front of the accomplished fact.) It's somehow a reprimand. I guess it's an important "nuance"...

Strange enough, I have a bottle of "Fait accompli" (Westbrook Wine Farm, in the Sierra Nevada Foothills of eastern Madera County, CA) and was wondering, last night, why they had chosen this name. I went on their website and could see they had made the same "nuance mistake"...

From: Suze Salom (herfinaldraft comcast.net)
Subject: This week's words

This week, an inheritance for which I have been waiting for years finally came through. When I saw fait accompli in my inbox, I had to appreciate the synchronicity.

From: Charles Alverson (chas eunet.rs)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--enfant terrible
Def: A person, especially someone famous or successful, whose unconventional lifestyle, work, or behavior appears shocking.

Your definition of infant terrible left out an (perhaps the) important element: youth. Orson Welles was an infant terrible, but he got over it.

From: Cal Audrain (acaudrain sbcglobal.net)
Subject: faux
Def: Artificial; fake; false.

Faux is used in architecture to describe materials that are fabricated and painted to look like more expensive materials, typically walls painted to look like they are made of real stone.

At the Art Institute of Chicago, when the Grand Staircase was built 100 years ago, the work was never completed according to the plans. Parts of the stairs were made from real marble, parts were made of concrete and plaster and then painted to look like the marble. Likewise, the surrounding walls of brick were plastered and painted and an arcade with columns that was to surround the second floor was finished on only the West side and the egg and dart moulding faded into a plaster blob.

The most interesting part was that the bottom five feet of one wall was actually covered with marble, but then, when the plastered walls were painted as faux marble, they also painted the real marble so you would not see the difference. You can visit today and see if you can tell which is real and which is faux.

Translation is the art of erasing oneself in order to speak in another's voice. -David Cole, professor, author, and correspondent (b. 1958)

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