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AWADmail Issue 444

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

One Sentence Says It All
The New York Times

How Opera Challenges Translators
The New York Times

Primero Hay Que Aprender Español. Ranhou Zai Xue Zhongwen.
The New York Times

LSSU's 36th annual List of Banished Words
Lake Superior State University

From: Bill Nyden (wan7001 humboldt.edu)
Subject: Supercilious
Def: Showing haughty disdain.

In the novel Proof by Dick Francis, a character is described as having a supercilious nose. It occurred to me that only Picasso could paint his portrait.

From: Colleen Weisz (colleenweisz aol.com)
Subject: supercilious

Incongruously, the "frowning muscle" is called Corrugator supercilii, while to raise an eyebrow haughtily, one must use the Epicranius, both the Occipitalis and the Frontal portion.

From: Candy (via Wordsmith Talk bulletin board)
Subject: supercilious

Leonard Nimoy, as the character Dr Spock in Star Trek can do it and of course Sean Connery too....but for most of us it's impossible. I can raise both eyebrows at once, but not one at the time. Raising or cocking the eyebrow may be an evolutionary trait: baboons, mandrills and cebus monkeys are said to raise their eyebrows as a threat gesture.

This dictionary makes entertaining reading....everything From Adam's-Apple-Jump to Zygomatic Smile The Nonverbal Dictionary.

From: Stephen Phillips (stephen_l_phillips talk21.com)
Subject: Impugn
Def: To call in question or cast doubt upon.

Some UK £ coins show the motto on their edges Nemo me impune lacessit. ("No one messes with me and gets away with it.")

Email of the Week (Happy New Year, brought to you by Smart Pills.)

From: Greg Eaton (greg.eaton eatonco.net)
Subject: Sinister Memories
Def: 1. Threatening or foreshadowing evil or harm. 2. On the left side.

"Sinister" is always a pain in my side. The Irish nuns teaching in Australia in the fifties took the Latin meaning for left handed and the English meaning for evil and combined them to make all left-handed children "evil" and deserving of pre-judgement and pre-emptive punishment. "Sinister" reminds me always of the pains in my "backside" and swollen knuckles resulting from such prejudice and corporal infliction.

From: David Mezzera (damezz dcomcast.net)
Subject: sinister

A close friend of mine, with whom I went through grammar school together, still tells of his anger at the "dear nuns" who made him switch from left to right hand while learning the Palmer Method of cursive writing, ostensibly because using the left hand was indeed sinister!

From: Zach Shatz (prismind hotmail.com)
Subject: sinister

The first time I encountered the term "sinister" related to the left side, I was at the optometrist's. I happen to have a lazy left eye, and when his diagnosis recorded the acuity of my "sinister" eye, I thought he was being rather unfeeling!

From: Greta Dorfman (greta.dorfman gmail.com)
Subject: sinister

In ophthalmologic terminology, the left eye is O.S., which stands for oculus sinister. Right eye is O.D. (oculus dexter). These terms are being phased out and replaced with "left eye" and "right eye". O.S. was too easily confused with os (opening), and O.D. sounds like an overdose.

From: Bruce Schoenberg (bruce schoenberg.net)
Subject: sinister

I can't hear this word without thinking of Dr. Simon Bar Sinister, the cartoon evil scientist and nemesis of Underdog. At one point I learned that the name "Bar Sinister" was a heraldic reference to a diagonal line from the lower left hand corner of a shield to the upper right and that this was a mark of bastardy, but apparently this is more of a Hollywood fiction than a real heraldic convention.

From: Beth Grover (beth_grover luckybrandjeans.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--sinister

My husband's favorite whiskey cocktail is a "Left Hand" -- but I find any whiskey cocktail to be sinister!

From: Art Wegweiser (art bmwcsregistry.org)
Subject: Sinister

As a paleontologist and professor I sometime take delight when I point out in class that the coiling direction of many organisms is either sinistral or dextral. Then I reveal that left handed people were once considered evil and that, not too long ago, all children were forced to write with their right hand. In some parts of the world (and still today) thieves had their left hands chopped off.

From: Meredith McQuoid (mcquoidm si.edu)
Subject: sinister

Students of organic chemistry encounter this word when learning about chirality i.e., orientation of atoms within asymmetric molecules. In one naming convention, orientation of the molecule can be denoted with the letter prefix R for recto or S for sinister, depending on the right- or left-handedness of the arrangement of atoms. Further explanation can be found here. This was important for chemists to discover because substances of identical constituents but differing chiralities can behave differently in how they bond with other substances. This can, for example, significantly affect how a drug performs.

From: Rudy Rosenberg Sr (RRosenbergSr accuratechemical.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--orchidaceous
Def: 1. Of or relating to orchids. 2. Showy.

Orchidometer: a necklace-like medical device used to gauge and measure the development rate of testicles.

From: Moria Feighery-Ross (MFRoss pharmatechassociates.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--orchidaceous

The veterinary (and presumably also human medical) profession uses the word cryptorchid to describe a male animal whose body has retained a testicle in the abdomen rather than descending into the normal location. This is not to be confused with the much rarer condition monorchid. It continues to be surprising to many pet owners, and occasionally vets, that removing only the visible one does not actually sterilize the pet.

From: Geoff Reynolds (amundo iinet.net.au)
Subject: Re: orchidaceous

I wonder if this word could be used to define bravery i.e. someone who has the "balls" to do something that others would not? He's, like, totally a orchidaceous dude!

From: Drew Lebowitz (drewlebo gmail.com)
Subject: Wisconsin Charivari
Def: 1. A noisy, mock serenade to a newly married couple, involving the banging of kettles, pots, and pans. 2. A confused, noisy spectacle.

A good friend of mine from northern Wisconsin used to have me in stitches recounting the charivaris of old in his small town. Custom dictated that prior to the couple's first child, the neighbors would storm the house in the middle of the night and make all forms of noise and obnoxiousness. One old codger was famous for bringing dynamite to set off outside!

My favorite part was always that the group would bring copious amounts of ice cream and attempt to consume it from every possible dish in the home. The revelers would leave only upon being paid to do so by the newlyweds (presumably to pay for all the ice cream and dynamite).

From: James Lee (james.lee undp.org)
Subject: Charivari

This word will recall for some of your readers the great satirical magazine Punch or the London Charivari, first published in 1841. There was also a French satirical review Le Charivari, which was published between 1832 and 1937. It was a very sad day for many of us when Punch ceased publication in 2002.

From: Claudine Voelcker (claudine.voelcker googlemail.com)
Subject: charivari

Being French, I'm very familiar with the first meaning of charivari: hullabaloo. When I came to live in Bavaria I learnt about another, sometimes very impressive one. The Charivari is a chain provided with hunting charms and coins men and women wear with their traditional costume. Some of them are real gems! And of course, they are all to be earned or at the most inherited. You're not supposed to buy them. Don't go to Oktoberfest to buy the junk there! Here's a picture of a beautiful one.

Oh, and there's a Munich-based radio station named Charivari.

From: Roy Reese (waterbearer54 yahoo.com)
Subject: Charivari

Where I grew up in northeast Pennsylvania the noisy "serenading" and tricking of newlyweds was referred to as a skimmelton and in upstate New York a horning. The latter may refer to its presumed other use for "cheating" spouses -- although this was never mentioned. One case of which I heard involved a group of friends going to the newlyweds' house, waking them by putting the butt of a shotgun against the side of the house and firing it. They were then rousted out of bed and the groom forced to transport his wife down the road to the nearby church in a wheelbarrow. Perhaps it was better that I was married far enough away from there never to have been fortunate enough to experience it!

From: Tandy Beal (foosbeal aol.com)
Subject: charivari meaning

Having directed circuses around the world, I can let you know there is another meaning: it is often the opening act of a circus when all the performers come out and do a whiz bang wild polyphonic acrobatic welcome to the audience. It's a visual pots and pans loudness!

Love this service/art/learning of yours! Thank you!

Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire. -Roland Barthes, literary critic and philosopher (1915-1980)

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