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AWADmail Issue 440

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: The gift of words

This holiday season, why not make a gift of words? Here are five suggestions:

A Word A Day
Another Word A Day
The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two

"Just the thing if romping with words is what you want to do."
-The Washington Post

A.Word.A.Day Premium

"The most welcomed, most enduring piece of daily mass email in cyberspace."
-The New York Times

A.Word.A.Day is now in its seventeenth year.

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the net

New Zealand wins pavlova debate, thanks to OED
The Daily Telegraph

Can Grammar Win Elections?

Analyzing Literature by Words and Numbers
The New York Times

From: Ashlea N Smith (asmithk gmu.edu)
Subject: Re: sforzando
Def: adjective, adverb: With sudden force or strong accent

Interesting that the 's' in the beginning of sforzando does not reverse the meaning root verb 'forzare' meaning 'to force' in Italian like 'sfortunato' does for 'fortunato' (unlucky and lucky respectively).

From: Ken Franklin (franklin.ken gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--sforzando

Like, I daresay, many other piano students, I remembered what the notation "sf" meant on sheet music with the mnemonic "sudden forte". (No extra charge for the second illustration of this week's theme!)

From: Linda Donahue (donahue lschs.org)
Subject: sforzando

Italian is replete with words that begin with consonant combinations not common to English: sb-, sd- ,sf-, sg-, sv-. One that might be familiar to Americans is the chain of fast-food restaurants often located at turnpike stops and in malls: Sbarro

From: Anthony G Morris (anton agmdigital.com)
Subject: kvetch
Def: verb intr.: To complain habitually, whine; gripe. noun: 1. A chronic complainer. 2. A complaint.

Do you know the joke about the Jewish guy lamenting to his friend about his dog going deaf? When asked how he could tell, his friend was amazed to hear that the dog could talk and was complaining verbally about things. Astounded he asked about the deafness and was told that the dog had been asked to fetch, not kvetch.

From: Peretz Rodman (peretz alumni.brandeis.edu)
Subject: kvetch

It should be noted that this word entered English in the United States, where it has taken on a different meaning from its use elsewhere in Yiddish or, for that matter, in contemporary Israeli Hebrew.

The root meaning of "squeeze" or "pinch" noted in your etymology led to the use of the verb to describe a sobbing sound used by cantors in singing many passages of Jewish liturgy. "Pinching" the throat once or twice in mid-note (using internal muscles, of course, not one's hand) yields that sort of sound. From the sobbing came the idea of complaint -- and thus the usage in American English -- and perhaps in Canadian English and around the British Commonwealth as well; I do not know.

In modern Hebrew, the term is used as a noun to describe, among other things, a place at which plumbing narrows or turns -- a very different outgrowth of the same root sense of squeezing or pinching.

Peretz Rodman
Jerusalem, Israel

From: Jesse Levy (jesse jlopen.com)
Subject: kvetch

A shiksa (non-Jewish girl) I dated years ago had a hard time with the double initial consonants of this word and therefore pronounced it kuh-vetch. I always tried to help her get the correct pronunciation by explaining that the "k" sound was shorter, but to no avail.

From: Chris Kent (cxk1 comcast.net)
Subject: kvetch

The cover of the book "Born to Kvetch" by Michael Wex, should remind us all that indoctrinating children into religion before they are of the age of consent is considered by writers like C. Hitchens to be child abuse. I completely agree.

From: Terry Throop (terrythroop gmail.com)
Subject: kvetch

The etymology for kvetch indicates a first recorded use in 1964. I learned the word from my Jewish college friends in 1960 or so. They, in turn had learned it from their grandparents and so on and so on. Maybe it's 1694 or 1496?? Keep up the great work -- there aren't many slip-ups like this.

I addressed this last week, but the number of emails this week indicates it bears repeating. It's important to note that this is the first *recorded* use of the word in the *English* language. Lexicographers revise the entries when they receive a citation antedating a word. The OED is always on the lookout for documentary evidence that antedates a word. Send it here.
-Anu Garg

From: Stanley Seiden (Stanleyseiden gmail.com)
Subject: Tmesis
Def: Stuffing a word into the middle of another word.

Tmesis was used much more elegantly in ancient times. In Latin texts, it was actually a pretty classy literary technique, as opposed to a means of sneaking profanities into your words.

This line from Book I of the Aeneid: et multo nebulae circum dea fudit amictu, describes Venus hiding herself with clouds; the word "circumfudit" is split to hide the goddess herself "dea" inside. In-freaking-credible.

From: Michael Sharman (jmsharman tiscali.co.uk)
Subject: tmesis

Tmesis in the shape of the separation of a prefix from a verb was common in Greek literature (particularly Homer). It is like 'pre...this...fer' or 'with...that...hold'. Apart from examples containing expletives (which is itself a tmesis), examples are rare in English, the most familiar being 'to usward' (e.g. Eph 1.19)

Email of the Week - (Sponsored by One Up! - Are you wicked/smart?)

From: Jimmie Carol Ellis (msjce1 juno.com)
Subject: tmesis

The word tmesis makes me think of a ship I was on in Agana Harbor, Guam. It was The Proteus and it was a sub-tender. To accommodate the huge missiles that go into submarines, the ship had been cut in half and another section welded in the middle, big enough to hold the missiles. That certainly is inserting another part in the middle, wouldn't you say? Nautically yours,
Chief Jimmie Carol Ellis, USN Retired in Crescent City, California where the redwoods meet the sea!

From: Andrew Kerr (andrew andrewkerr.plus.com)
Subject: tmesis
Def: Stuffing a word into the middle of another word.

Back in the '60s I was PA to Randolph S Churchill, son of Sir Winston. They both had a passion for the English language and I was constantly asked to look up words in his 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary (OED). He was particularly pleased that tmesis was the only word in the language beginning with 'tm'. He delighted in the discovery of windfucker, that is what they call a kestrel in the Orkney Islands.

From: William Bailey (wbailey3276 gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--tmesis

In the Marines, the favorite tmesis was (is?) out-f-------standing. Of course, the f-word still functions in all parts of speech.

From: Joe Levy (diogenesla aol.com)
Subject: tmesis

Ah yes, I remember tmeses from my army days, when it was the "F" word that was stuffed, as in out-effing-rageous or in-effing-consequential. Or is that creamed-effing-chipped beef again?

From: Blair F. Bigelow (blairf.bigelow comcast.net)
Subject: tmesis

A probably unprintable example from a World War II American air base in England. As bomber squadrons returned from runs over Germany, some planes missing, some damaged and limping in, named over the base's loudspeaker was the pilot of each landing plane. As one severely damaged plane limped down the runway, the pilot's name boomed out, followed by "and he's only twenty fuckin'-one years old!" This was told to me by a now-deceased law professor who was one of the ground crew.

From: Leendert Dekker (leendert telkomsa.net)
Subject: tmesis

In my army days, something very definitive was affirmed to be definifuckintive.

From: Jimmie Carol Ellis (msjce1 juno.com)
Subject: tmesis

Well, the first time I ever heard something like this, from a nurse with whom I worked, it took about two clicks for it to hit me. Can't tell everyone this, but she said, "Adi-fuckin'-os!" I was floored!

From: James Campbell (james.n.campbell gmail.com)
Subject: tmesis

I am so glad to know that there is a word for this. My favorite example is what I heard from a drill sergeant decades ago, ". . . and don't do it a-goddam-gain."

From: Nancy Charlton (nbcharlton comcast.net)
Subject: tmesis

A gentleman I know emigrated to the USA from Italy after the war. He didn't know a word of English, and was advised to answer "Yes" to everything. He was at the barber shop one day, and was asked "Do you want a crew cut?" He remembered the advice and said "Yes." When he went home that day and his children were appalled at his appearance, and, he told me, "My wife, she no recca-me-nize.

From: Rhonda Stovin (rstovin shaw.ca)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--tmesis

I was once taught this was called an infix (in contrast to a suffix or prefix) -- now I have a-whole-nother word for it.

From: Phyllis Morrow (ffpm uaf.edu)
Subject: tmesis

I was once delighted to hear a mother admonishing her child not just to behave but to "be-really-have!" It started a continuing family discussion about the phonological and syntactic rules that must govern this phenomenon.

From: Catherine Bolton (translations bolton.it)
Subject: Svelte
Def: 1. Slender; lithe. 2. Graceful; suave.

In Italian the word "svelto" also means swift, quick, nimble. "Svelto di lingua" means having a quick tongue and "svelto di mano" means nimble-fingered, a talent that has made the career of many a pickpocket around the world.

From: John Miksits (john.miksits dot.state.nj.us)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--sforzando

Check out the link about penguins. There are many places penguins live. Even a desert!

Antarctica is also considered a desert. -Anu Garg

Language is more fashion than science, and matters of usage, spelling and pronunciation tend to wander around like hemlines. -Bill Bryson, author (b. 1951)

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